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Two Vanuatu girls.jpg
Girls from Vanuatu.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Indonesia (11,000,000)
New Guinea (159,000)
Australia (26,000)
Solomon Islands (17,900)
Vanuatu (6,600)
New Caledonia (2,100)
United States (1,200)
Melanesian languages
Christianity (predominantly)
Related ethnic groups
Moluccans, Papuan people
Distribution of Melanesians according to Meyers Konversations-Lexikon.

Melanesians are the dominant inhabitants of Melanesia. Most speak one of the many Papuan languages, though a few groups such as Moluccans, the Motu and Fijians speak Austronesian languages. The Melanesians appear to have occupied islands from Eastern Indonesia to as far east as the main islands in the Solomon Islands, including Makira and possibly the smaller islands farther to the east.[3]

Austronesian languages and cultural traits[edit]

Austronesian languages and cultural traits were introduced along the north and south-east coasts of New Guinea and in some of the islands north and east of New Guinea by migrating Austronesians, probably starting over 9,000 years ago.[citation needed] This was followed by long periods of interaction that resulted in many complex changes in genetics, languages, and culture.[4]

It was once postulated that from this area a very small group of people (speaking an Austronesian language) departed to the east and became the forebears of the Polynesian people.[5] This theory was, however, contradicted by a study published by Temple University finding that Polynesians and Micronesians have little genetic relation to Melanesians; instead, they found significant distinctions between groups living within the Melanesian islands.[6] Genome scans show Polynesians have little genetic relationship to Melanesians.[7]

A genetic link has been identified as Polynesians are dominated by a type of macro-haplogroup C y-dna, which is a minority lineage in Melanesia and have a very low frequency of the dominant melanesian y-dna which is K2b1, which complicates matters.[8]

Some recent studies suggest that all humans outside of Africa have inherited some genes from Neanderthals, and that Melanesians are the only known modern humans whose prehistoric ancestors interbred with the Denisova hominin, sharing 4%–6% of their genome with this ancient cousin of the Neanderthal.[9]

Theories of Polynesian migration through Melanesia[edit]

The most widely accepted theory is that modern Austronesians originated from migrations out of Taiwan between 3000 and 1000 BC. However, Soares et al. (2008) have argued for an older pre-Holocene Sundaland origin within Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) based on mitochondrial DNA.[10] Examination of mitochondrial DNA lineages shows that they have been evolving within Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) for a longer period than previously believed. The "out of Taiwan model" has been recently challenged by a study from Leeds University and published in Molecular Biology and Evolution. Examination of mitochondrial DNA lineages shows that they have been evolving within Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) for a longer period than previously believed. Ancestors of the Polynesians arrived in the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea at least 6,000 to 8,000 years ago.[11]

Paternal Y chromosome analysis by Kayser et al. (2000) also showed that Polynesians have significant Melanesian genetic admixture.[12] However, a follow-up study by Kayser et al. (2008) discovered that only 21% of the Polynesian autosomal gene pool is of Melanesian origin, with the rest (79%) being of East Asian origin.[13] Another study by Friedlaender et al. (2008) also confirmed that Polynesians are closer genetically to Micronesians, Taiwanese Aborigines, and East Asians, than to Melanesians. The study concluded that Polynesians moved through Melanesia fairly rapidly, allowing only limited admixture between Austronesians and Melanesians.[14] Thus, the high frequencies of B4a1a1 are the result of drift and represent the descendants of a very few successful East Asian females. [15]

Incidence of blond hair in Melanesia[edit]

Blond hair is rare outside Europe, but evolved independently in Melanesia[16] where Melanesians of some islands (along with some Australian aborigines) are the only non-white people to have blond hair. This has been traced to an allele of TYRP1 unique to these people, and is not the same gene that causes blond hair in Europe.

Melanesian areas of Oceania[edit]

The predominantly Melanesian areas of Oceania include parts of the Maluku Islands (Moluccas) of Eastern Indonesia, the New Guinea and surrounding islands, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji. The region New Caledonia and nearby Loyalty Islands for most of its history has had a majority Melanesian population, but its proportion has dropped to slightly below half in the face of immigration over the last century to present time. The largest and most populous Melanesian country is Papua New Guinea. The largest city in Melanesia is Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea with about 300,000 people, mostly of Melanesian ancestry.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Neo-Melanesian Papuan". Joshua Project. Retrieved 2014-10-25. 
  2. ^ "Vanuatu Melanesian". Joshua Project. Retrieved 2014-10-25. 
  3. ^ Dunn, Michael, Angela Terrill, Ger Reesink, Robert A. Foley, Stephen C. Levinson (2005). "Structural Phylogenetics and the Reconstruction of Ancient Language History". Science 309 (5743): 2072–2075. doi:10.1126/science.1114615. PMID 16179483. 
  4. ^ Spriggs, Matthew (1997). The Island Melanesians. Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-16727-7. 
  5. ^ Kayser, Manfred, Silke Brauer, Gunter Weiss, Peter A. Underhill, Lutz Rower, Wulf Schiefenhövel and Mark Stoneking (2000). "The Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y chromosomes". Current Biology 10 (20): 1237–1246. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(00)00734-X. PMID 11069104. 
  6. ^ Friedlaender, Jonathan (2008-01-17). "Genome scan shows Polynesians have little genetic relationship to Melanesians" (Press release). Temple University. 
  7. ^ Friedlaender, Jonathan; Friedlaender JS; Friedlaender FR; Reed FA; Kidd KK; Kidd JR; et al. (2008-01-18). "The Genetic Structure of Pacific Islanders". Public Library of Science (Philadelphia, PA 19122: Temple University). PLoS Genet (4(1): e19 doi=10.1371/journal.pgen.0040019): e19. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0040019. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  8. ^ Kayser, M.; Brauer, S.; Weiss, G.; Underhill, P.A.; Roewer, L.; Schiefenhövel, W.; Stoneking, M. (2000). "Melanesian origin of Polynesian Y chromosomes". Current Biology 10 (20): 1237–1246. doi:10.1016/s0960-9822(00)00734-x.  See also correction in: Current Biology, vol. 11, no. 2, pages 141-142 (23 Jan. 2001).
  9. ^ Carl Zimmer (22 December 2010). "Denisovans Were Neanderthals' Cousins, DNA Analysis Reveals". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 December 2010. 
  10. ^ Dr. Martin Richards. "Climate Change and Postglacial Human Dispersals in Southeast Asia". Oxford Journals. Retrieved 2010. 
  11. ^ DNA Sheds New Light on Polynesian Migration
  12. ^ M. Kayser, S. Brauer, G. Weiss, P.A. Underhill, L. Roewer, W. Schiefenhövel, and M. Stoneking, "Melanesian origin of Polynesian Y chromosomes," Current Biology, vol. 10, no. 20, pages 1237-1246 (19 Oct. 2000). See also correction in: Current Biology, vol. 11, no. 2, pages 141-142 (23 Jan. 2001).
  13. ^ Kayser, Manfred; Lao, Oscar; Saar, Kathrin; Brauer, Silke; Wang, Xingyu; Nürnberg, Peter; Trent, Ronald J.; Stoneking, Mark (2008). "Genome-wide analysis indicates more Asian than Melanesian ancestry of Polynesians". The American Journal of Human Genetics 82 (1): 194–198. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2007.09.010. 
  14. ^ Friedlaender, Jonathan S., Françoise R. Friedlaender, Floyd A. Reed, Kenneth K. Kidd, Judith R. Kidd, Geoffrey K. Chambers, Rodney A. Lea et al. "The genetic structure of Pacific Islanders." PLoS genetics 4, no. 1 (2008): e19.
  15. ^ Assessing Y-chromosome Variation in the South Pacific Using Newly Detected, By Krista Erin Latham [1]
  16. ^ Sindya N. Bhanoo (3 May 2012). "Another Genetic Quirk of the Solomon Islands: Blond Hair". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 May 2012.