Background: The islands of North Maluku, Indonesia occupy a central position in the major prehistoric dispersal streams that shaped the peoples of Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Within this region a linguistic contact zone exists where speakers of Papuan and Austronesian languages reside in close proximity. Here we use population genetic data to assess the extent to which North Maluku populations experienced admixture of Asian genetic material, and whether linguistic boundaries reflect genetic differentiation today.Results: Autosomal and X-linked markers reveal overall Asian admixture of 67% in North Maluku, demonstrating a substantial contribution of genetic material into the region from Asia. We observe no evidence of population structure associated with ethnicity or language affiliation.Conclusions: Our data support a model of widespread Asian admixture in North Maluku, likely mediated by the expansion of Austronesian-speaking peoples into the region during the mid Holocene. In North Maluku there is no genetic differentiation in terms of Austronesian- versus Papuan-speakers, suggesting extensive gene flow across linguistic boundaries. In a regional context, our results illuminate a major genetic divide at the Molucca Sea, between the islands of Sulawesi and North Maluku. West of this divide, populations exhibit predominantly Asian ancestry, with very little contribution of Papuan genetic material. East of the Molucca Sea, populations show diminished rates of Asian admixture and substantial persistence of Papuan genetic diversity.
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