Cal Poly to Host Oct. 25 Talk on Prehistoric Contact Between South America and Polynesia

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Lisa Matisoo-Smith, a professor of biological anthropology at University of Otago in New Zealand, will assess the evidence for Polynesian contact with the Americas during a talk Oct. 25 at Cal Poly.

Matisoo-Smith’s talk, titled “Reconfiguring the Polynesian Triangle,” will be held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center’s Pavilion. During her presentation, Matisoo-Smith will describe how the presence of the sweet potato in Polynesian archaeological sites proves prehistoric contact between South America and Polynesia. Similarly, the discovery of Polynesian chicken bones in Central Chile indicates the voyages went both ways. However, some anthropologists question this interpretation.

Matisoo-Smith will present the on-going research about Polynesian contact with the Americas and discuss the implications for both Pacific and American prehistory. She will also discuss the evidence needed to help researchers understand the nature of the contact, whether or not the two groups simply traded, or if Polynesians settled and married locals.

The talk is free and open to the public and sponsored by the Social Sciences, Biology, and History departments, and the College of Liberal Arts Lottery Funds.

About Lisa Matisoo-Smith

Lisa Matisoo-Smith is a professor of biological anthropology at University of Otago in New Zealand. Her lab focuses primarily on identifying the origins of Pacific peoples and their commensal plants and animals in order to better understand the settlement, history and prehistory of the Pacific and New Zealand. They utilize both ancient and modern DNA methods to answer a range of anthropological questions regarding population histories, dispersals and interactions. Her team is working on a range of projects funded by a variety of organizations, but the overarching research theme of the lab and the research group is molecular anthropology and ancient DNA analyses. They have a purpose built, state-of-the-art ancient DNA laboratory, located in the University of Otago Richardson Building, as well as a fully equipped modern DNA lab. She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology from the University of Auckland, and her Bachelor of Art in anthropology from UC Berkeley.

About the Cal Poly Social Sciences Department

At Cal Poly, the Social Sciences Department focuses on practical training and critical thinking skills. The department offers degrees in anthropology and geography and sociology, with the opportunity to concentrate in a specific focus area. Students are taught to bridge the gap between classroom learning and the real world through internships, study abroad opportunities, service learning and senior projects.


- Social Sciences Department:
- College of Liberal Arts:   
- Lisa Matisoo-Smith:

Contact: Terry Jones

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