Rethinking Polynesian Origins

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Rethinking Polynesian Origins: Human Settlement of the Pacific

The question “where do we come from?” is universal – all cultures have their myths and stories of where they came from. It’s also one that interests science as you will know from your studies of Human Evolution. Closer to home, scientists like Allan Wilson Centre researcher Lisa Matisoo-Smith, are working on finding the answers to questions about the origins of Polynesians and human settlement of the Pacific. This seminar looks at how our understanding the story of human settlement of the Pacific has advanced as a result of evidence collected using molecular biotechnological techniques.

As part of the seminar we will also look at how biotechnological techniques are advancing our understanding of the origin of modern humans, the migrations of Homo sapiens out of Africa and the place of Neanderthals in the hominin family tree.


The Seminar Paper and Questions

  Rethinking Polynesian Origins: Human Settlement of the Pacific

Seminar Paper      

Pre-Seminar Focus Questions and

Post Seminar Challenge Questions


  • Download the seminar paper and read this in preparation for your in-school workshop prior to the seminar on April 7th, 2011.
  • The CHALLENGE QUESTIONS are for discussion in your school workshop after the seminar.
  • Make sure that you post your ideas and answers to the challenge questions here.
  • This page will be monitored by teachers and scientists who will respond to your discussion.


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If you would like to ask a question about the seminar paper before the seminar please click here. Questions will be answered during the seminar.


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View the seminar powerpoint

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Useful Resources for this Seminar

Scientific Papers available online


Analysis of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA


Other items of interest

  • Two interviews with Lisa Matisoo-Smith

    - from National Geographic

    - The University of Auckland's Inquiring Minds series


Links to your school programme

This seminar links to the following NCEA Level 3 Achievement Standards:

  • AS 90714 Biology 3.2 Research a contemporary biological issue
  • AS 90715 Biology 3.3 Describe the role of DNA in relation to gene expression
  • AS 90718 Biology 3.6 Describe applications of biotechnological techniques
  • AS 90719 Biology 3.7 Describe trends in human evolution

A list of objectives from your Year 13 programme that link into the seminar can be found on page 2 of the Seminar Discussion and Challenge Questions.


About the Presenters

Lisa Matisoo-Smith | Michal Denny

Lisa is Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of Otago and also a Principal Investigator with the Allan Wilson Centre. Click on the links below to find out about the research she is working on with each institution.


University of Otago

Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology

Allan Wilson Centre
 Image:Otago logo.PNG