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Out of Taiwan

30 January 2016

You've heard of Out of Africa – it seems there is also an Out of Taiwan theory that is proving to be difficult to uphold – see http://phys.org/print373206379.html

The consensus view is that rice farming in China spread to Taiwan where the Austronesian languages developed. From here the population and their language spread outwards into Indonesia and the Pacific 4000 years ago (or in the period following the 2300BC event). That seems reasonable as links to the Liputu civilisation have been found and they spread subsequently into the Pacific (which is a consensus view I would have thought). However, the idea that the Austronesian languages spread across such a wide region in such a short time is surely not consensus – but the way the press release is written one gets that view. Taiwan is of course situated on a continental shelf system off the coast of East Asia and there have been fairly dramatic changes (mostly submergence of large lumps of land) since the Late Pleistocene period – and during the Holocene as a whole. The actual coastline differed. We know for example that Sunda Land (an extension of SE Asia) was overwhelmed by global sea changes at roughly 8000 years ago  – but what other land masses in East Asia suffered the same drowning. We can see the high points of Sunda Land = the islands of Indonesia, but what else was above sea level around 11500BC (at the onset of the Younger Dryas period). The new research acknowledges there was a lot going on in SE Asia prior to 4000 years ago and the spread of Austronesian languages could have, and probably did take place much earlier than 2000BC. This I suppose is the new research findings but may be they could have avoided the oomph by reading Stephen Oppenheimer's book, 'East of Eden: the drowned continent' (but then again it involves a great flood of water that catastrophically engulfed Sunda Land, not the type of thing read by mainstream scientists as it smacks of the avoid at all cost idea of catastrophism). 

Migration is invariably associated with bad weather, natural disasters (and drowned landscapes are certainly in that bracket), and as a result of one lot of humans attacking another group of humans. Professor Martin Richards of the University of Huddersfield (rapidly earning a good reputation in the sciences) has looked at the whole of the Holocene, from the Younger Dryas boundary to the event at 8000 years ago, recognising there were dramatic changes. He says DNA analysis does not indicate a single migration event and the 4000BC migration  probably accounts for a minority of region's population. The article is in the journal Human Genetics (Jan 2016) and describes an analysis of 12000 mitochondrial sequences (or should that be 1200). Further articles on the same subject are in the pipeline – yet Oppenheimer (a doctor and also involved in DNA research) was writing about the migration of people in SE Asia back in the 1990s. This doesn't mean his work is ignored as the full article may acknowledge him. The problem here is that from a Eurocentric point of view SE Asia is on the opposite side of the world and has been marginalised as a result of that and is only now becoming fashionable in anthropological circles. Genetics is a new science and likes to present itself as providing new information.

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