New theory on Pacific resettlement

Contrasts between Vanuatu's Melanesian people and their Polynesian type languages had given rise to a new theory on Pacific settlement.

According to a paleo-geneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Austria, Vanuatu was first settled by the Austronesian Lapita people around 3000 years ago.

These were peoples who had largely East Asian genetic ancestry. But new genetic research revealed how "Austronesian languages were retained throughout its history despite near-total replacement of early Austronesian-Lapita with Papuan ancestry".

But Cosimo Posth said Papuan people soon started arriving from the Bismarck Archipelago, currently part of Papua New Guinea.

Dr Posth said Vanuatu's genetic history shows a gradual admixture of the two peoples which eventually supplanted the original population but not their language or culture.

"Soon after the Lapita settlement we find, 400 years after, an individual with Papuan ancestry. And right after, like 500 years after, we find individuals that really are the sure signs of mixtures, so they have really this mixed ancestry," he explained.

Cosimo Posth said the earlier Lapita culture and language remained strong in Vanuatu despite being Melanesian.

He said ancient Vanuatu became the launch point for the Lapita people colonising remote Oceania or Polynesia.