The Chinese origin of Pacific Islanders

Archaeologist Jiao Tianlong is exploring the origins of the Austronesian people, who spread their language and technology from Southeast China and Taiwan to the rest of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands some 6,000 years ago.

Archaeologists Find Evidence of Origin of Pacific Islanders
Voice of America, 31 March 2008

The Austronesian migration was one of the most significant migration events that we can trace linguistically and archaeologically; from Taiwan, humans moved down Philippines before branching off to the Pacific Islands in the east and to Southeast Asia to the west, going as far as Madagascar.

Migration on this scale would not be possible without sophisticated maritime and seafaring technology that we still do not understand. Jiao’s research goes further back into exploring why such migrations took place.

“Earlier researchers argued that the reason people first left China and crossed to Taiwan, is because over-population pushed them off the coastal plain of mainland China,” he explains, adding that his research takes a different approach. “We’re looking at environmental factors that may have contributed in pushing people [from the coastal plain of mainland China] to look for new land.” He believes rising sea levels may have stimulated interest in a maritime way of life, and gathering food from the sea.

However, it would be a mistake to think that before the Austronesian dispersal, there were no humans living in these areas. There is an growing body of genetic studies that show, at least in the case of Southeast Asia, that humans were already present before the Austronesians came, and could have possibly originated from an out-of-Africa migration 60,000 years ago.

Related books:
Lost Maritime Cultures: China and the Pacific
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago by P. Bellwood

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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