via Archaeological Research in Asia, 21 September 2023: This study by Leipe et al. explores Taiwan’s population dynamics from 5000 to 100 cal BP, analyzing archaeological sites to understand growth patterns and regional differences. It reveals that population trends in Taiwan partially mirrored those in continental China and were influenced by political, economic, and climatic factors. The study also highlights a correlation between human activities like agriculture and environmental changes, suggesting that climate shifts, especially increased rainfall and monsoon changes, impacted settlement patterns, particularly in eastern Taiwan.
To reconstruct population dynamics in Taiwan between 5000 and 100 cal BP, we analysed spatial-temporal changes in archaeological site abundance and size (area). The results suggest that population growth was discontinuous throughout the study region and that the main spatial differences in population trends were between eastern/northern and western Taiwan. Comparison of settlement data shows that population trends in Taiwan and different regions in continental China were partly parallel. We contrast these data with political, economic, settlement, and climatic developments in continental China, when considering possible factors that influenced these demographic relationships. In addition, we examined published palaeoenvironmental time series from the broader study region to explore human-environment interactions. This revealed that proxy records of human activities (agriculture, deforestation) correlate with the derived trends in site abundance and area. Furthermore, we hypothesise that the inferred sparse settlement in eastern Taiwan during 2700–1800 cal BP is related to climate change. An increase in seasonal rainfall and high-intensity precipitation events in late summer and autumn, due to long-term changes in summer monsoon precipitation and El Niño–Southern Oscillation intensity, likely resulted in unfavourable hydrological conditions for crop cultivation in this part of the study region.