Migration in Southeast Asia: It's the other way around!

New genetic-level studies on Southeast Asian populations throw up new ideas about how humans migrated and populated this region – it may well turn out that the Austronesian expansion wasn’t as big a deal as it was made out to be.

New Research Forces U-turn In Population Migration Theory
Science Daily, 26 May 2008

Prevailing theory suggests that the present-day populations of Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) originate largely from a Neolithic expansion from Taiwan driven by rice agriculture about 4,000 years ago – the so-called “Out of Taiwan” model.

However an international research team, led by the UK’s first Professor of Archaeogenetics, Martin Richards, has shown that a substantial fraction of their mitochondrial DNA lineages (inherited down the female line of descent), have been evolving within ISEA for a much longer period, possibly since modern humans arrived some 50,000 years ago.

Moreover, the lineage can be shown to have actually expanded in the opposite direction – into Taiwan – within the last 10,000 years.

Okay, this isn’t exactly news and I’ve mentioned earlier news about the level of genetic drift and migrations of human populations within Southeast Asia, particularly on Sundaland. At the very least, we can chalk this one up to the fact that there’s a lot more to the migration story than originally thought. It would be interesting to see if someone can actually map along space and time the migrations of human populations according to the genetic evidence.

Related books:
Indo-Pacific Prehistory 1990. Proceedings of the 14th Congress Held at Yogyakarta. Vol 1 & 2.
Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History

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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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