Skip to comments.Archaeologists Find Evidence Of Origin Of Pacific Islanders
Posted on 03/31/2008 1:56:50 PM PDT by blam
Archaeologists Find Evidence of Origin of Pacific Islanders
By Heidi Chang
31 March 2008
The origin of Pacific Islanders has been a mystery for years. Now archaeologists believe they have the answer. As Heidi Chang reports, they found it in China.
The excavation of the Zishan site (Zhejiang Province) in 1996, where many artifacts from the Hemudu culture have been found
China had a sea-faring civilization as long as 7000 years ago. Archaeologist Tianlong Jiao says, one day, these mariners sailed their canoes into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, and stayed. He points out, "Most scientists, archaeologists, historical linguists and human biologists agree that today's southeast China, Taiwan and Northern Philippines, the whole region is the ultimate homeland of the Austronesian people." The Austronesians include today's Polynesian, Micronesian, Melanesian, and the indigenous people in Philippines, in the Southeast Asia archipelago, and in Taiwan.
Tianlong Jiao at work in Fujian Province, 2004
Jiao, who was born in China, is chair of the Department of Anthropology at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. He says understanding how seafaring technology developed in prehistoric China 3000 to 7000 years ago is critical in understanding the origins of Pacific heritage. "These people did not have a writing system, so they didn't record their own history, they had an oral history, but over many thousand years, the oral history is easily lost."
To prevent this history from being lost, Jiao has been coordinating the first joint research project with archaeologists from China, Taiwan and the United States. They are documenting evidence of the ancient seafaring civilizations that once flourished in southeast China.
Barry Rolett at the Huangguashan site in Fujian Province, 2002
Jiao first got interested in these maritime cultures while he was a graduate student at Harvard, and began collaborating on projects in China with his professor, Barry Rolett. Rolett is trying to understand migration patterns in ancient China.
"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.
This 1.5 meter long canoe paddle, shown as it was uncovered, was made by the Hemudu people (7,000-5,000 B.C.E.), rice farmers and fishermen who developed seafaring which allowed them to migrate south-ward along the coast of Southeast China
Rolett is now a professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he teaches classes on Pacific archaeology. "So when I talk about the connection between Pacific Islanders, especially Polynesians, and southeast China, then my Native Hawaiian students are usually surprised, and they say, 'How could it be that Polynesians have roots in China? We don't look like Chinese.' And then I have to explain to them that, 'Yes, they don't look like the people living in southeast China today, but the people living there 6000 years ago, were completely different.'"
Rolett says it's even more important to continue their research now, because China is changing so fast, development is destroying archaeological sites, and modernization is threatening to overwhelm the cultural heritage of the region's ethnic minorities.
"China has been trying to get everybody in the south to switch from speaking their native dialect to Mandarin. So people are starting to lose their native dialects and the cultural diversity is starting to be lost." He compares it to the way that cultural diversity in the United States has been lost. "We've become such a homogenous nation of peoples."
This crown-shaped jade ornament from the Liangzhu culture (5,000-3,000 B.C.E.) has a deity image carved in the middle with bird shapes to either side (From the collection of Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Antiquity and Archaeology)
As an American working in modern China, Rolett says he's come to realize that the languages and the cultures of the ethnic minorities are a valuable resource and a great asset. "They're the link," he stresses, "and they're the evidence for this incredible historic relationship, which links China to the Pacific Islands."
Many of the artifacts that have been excavated in southeast China over the past few decades have been displayed outside of China only at Hawaii's Bishop Museum. Tianlong Jiao recalls how one Hawaii resident responded to seeing the exhibit of ancient pottery, tools, jade and maritime artifacts. "She said, 'Until I saw the exhibit, I didn't realize that we share, we share one ocean, we are one people ' And for me that's very touching."
While many aren't aware of China's ancient maritime history and its global significance, Jiao believes it is an important story to tell. He's edited a book about the groundbreaking research called, Lost Maritime Cultures: China and the Pacific. And he's back in China this spring conducting more research on these early seafarers and their journeys throughout the Pacific.
Anyone want to venture a guess who were these people living there 6,000 years ago?
Next week, China will lay claim to all of the South Pacific Islands...
This study is screaming for human genome information. I wouldn’t be surprised if similar, earlier Asian maritime cultures are found to have been the main source of North American populations instead of the so-called “Bearing Straight” land migration route, an hypothesis that creates more problems than it solves.
You mean some of these folks?
That “canoe paddle, 1.5 meters long” looks suspciously like a South Pacific war club.
Next week, China will lay claim to all of the South Pacific Islands...
My first thought, too...
Unfortunate we’ve come to this.
Lost Maritime Cultures:
China and the Pacific
ed by Tianlong Jiao
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Letsee...maybe people that were a little similar to those indigeneous folks inhabiting the hokkaido island north of japan?
There are already DNA studies of Polynesians. One of the suprises was that there was no genetic link to South America but there WERE matrilineal ties to Papua New Guniea. Those who were heading out from Asia into the Pacific picked up a few New Guinea wives on the way out, contibuting to about 5-10% of the maternal lineages there today.
I think someone posted an article about a month ago that said DNA linked the islanders to Taiwanese people.
They became Americans ie mexicans
They became Americans ie Mexicans
I've always thought that South Sea Islanders had some Oriental ancestry. Hawaiians may not think they look Chinese, but they certainly do look Oriental.
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