Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Language Study: Polynesian Islanders Originated on Taiwan

When people say "cradle of civilization" they usually mean the Levant, or the great river valleys of China. But Taiwan was the cradle of a very great civilization, that of the Polynesian explorers, who settled the Pacific in one of the great feats of navigation and migration in human history....Science Daily has the story:
"Our results use cutting-edge computational methods derived from evolutionary biology on a large database of language data," says Dr Alexei Drummond of the Department of Computer Science. "By combining biological methods and linguistic data we are able to investigate big-picture questions about human origins".

The results, published in the latest issue of the journal Science, show how the settlement of the Pacific proceeded in a series of expansion pulses and settlement pauses. 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.
The Science Daily site also provides links to several other articles in a similar vein.

6 comments:

Readin said...

Wow. So it turns out that Polynesia has also been an integral part of China since ancient times. Who would have guessed?

Dixteel said...

It's a very interesting finding, for Taiwan, especially.

Aaron said...

as "cradles of civilisation" go, your preamble left out the great rift valley, sir..., nonetheless, thought provoking stuff. I'm off to watch old episodes of The Wire and put off my inevitable trouncing at Scrabble.
-AP

Anonymous said...

DNA is the definitive method to study human origins. Language study is fascinating but not precise.

Yu-Wen said...

The same issue of Science (January 23, 2009) published two independent studies about Pacific islanders migration. One used computer/linguistic approach and the other used molecular technique of genotyping Helicobacter pylori (the ulcer-causing bacteria) obtained from guts of local residents. Both studies reached essentially the same conclusion. Curiously, the Science Daily article cited the linguistic study but not the molecular one (the more intriguing approach, in my opinion).

It is rather clear that those ancient "Taiwanese" (at around the time, some of pyramids were being built) must possess phenomenal navigational skills otherwise the consequence will not be hard to imagine.

Anonymous said...

Anon: The DNA evidence says pretty much the same thing. Also, this study was really innovative and groundbreaking--it made Science, which unless you're an annual mention for the Nobel, often becomes news in itself.