2009-01-28

How Taiwan spawned Pacific civilisation


Ocean-going peoples first established settlements in Taiwan over 6,000 years ago. In subsequent centuries, their descendants established human society throughout Indonesia, the Philippines, and the far-flung islands of the Pacific. New research into this odyssey of the human species confirms the role of Taiwan as an important cradle of world civilisation.

From the full report at Science Daily:
New research into language evolution suggests most Pacific populations originated in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago. Scientists at The University of Auckland have used sophisticated computer analyses on vocabulary from 400 Austronesian languages to uncover how the Pacific was settled.
. . . .
The Austronesians arose in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago. Before entering the Philippines, they paused for around a thousand years, and then spread rapidly across the 7,000km from the Philippines to Polynesia in less than one thousand years. After settling Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, the Austronesians paused again for another thousand years, before finally spreading further into Polynesia eventually reaching as far as New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island.
"We can link these expansion pulses to the development of new technology, such as better canoes and social techniques to deal with the great distances between islands in Polynesia," says Research Fellow Simon Greenhill. "Using these new technologies the Austronesians and Polynesians were able to rapidly spread through the Pacific in one of the greatest human migrations ever. This suggests that technological advances have played a major role in the spread of people throughout the world."
A more journalistic treatment of the story appeared earlier this week in the Taipei Times.

Not all the kids left the nest 7,000 years ago, of course. The descendants of Taiwan's original inhabitants still live here. A good introduction to their culture may be found on the Internet courtesy of the Yang-Grivot Collection.
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