Sun, Aug 29, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Data links early settlers to African diaspora

DIFFERENT STORIES While genetic research puts this land on a main route of early humans' dispersion, anthropologists tie early settlements to the Pearl River Delta

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Long before Portuguese sailors put "Formosa" on the world map, and long before Chinese people crossed the dark current to set up home here, this land was inhabited by Austronesian Aborigines for thousands of years. Multigenetic analysis reveals that Austronesian tribes arrived as early as 14,000 years ago.

According to Marie Lin (林媽莉), who conducted the research as director of the immunohematory reference laboratory at Mackay Memorial Hospital, the gene typology of Taiwan's twelve indigenous peoples suggests a close kinship with Southeast Asian islanders, another subgroup of the Austronesian language family. Lin also deduced that the central mountain tribes and east coast tribes might have different origins due to separate waves of immigration from Africa between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago.

"Even before Taiwan became an island, forefathers of Taiwan's indigenous peoples arrived in Taiwan in the late pleistocene ice age," Lin said after a conference at Mackay Memorial Hospital yesterday.

Lin had previously delivered the paper in June at an international conference on Human Migrations in Continental East Asia and Taiwan at the University of Geneva.

Lin's theory of the origin of Taiwanese Aboriginals sheds light on the role the island plays as a transition station for archaic hominid populations. In genetic and archaeological studies, the most recognized model on modern human origins suggests two routes out of Africa in prehistory. One is the northern route toward Europe and North Asia. The other is the southern coastal route from Africa toward East Asia and Oceania. It is on the southern route that Taiwan served as a midway hub for the earliest human migration.

"Genetically speaking, Taiwan is one of the most probable sources of the Austronesian family," said Toomas Kivisild, research fellow at the Department of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tartu in Estonia, who found his study on the database in Lin's lab. Based on comparisons of genetic sequencing, Kivisild inferred that Polynesian migration is likely to have originated in Taiwan, followed by a later maturation and interaction phase in the islands that are now eastern Indonesia and Melanesia.

Kivisild's model demonstrated that while there is a genetic link between the indigenous Taiwanese and the ancestors of present-day Polynesian populations, there is no Austronesian lineage that could be traced back to a Neolithic migration from China.

The genetic evidence, however, is at odds with anthropological data that support the theory that there were contacts with China even in the Neolithic age.

In Taiwan, the Neolithic stage is represented by the oldest ceramic culture of the island, the Tapenkeng culture site in Pali (八里) by the Tamsui River in Taipei county. The Tapenkeng culture, unquestionably the earliest neolithic cultural stratum found in Taiwan, began around 2500 BC. According to Tsang Cheng-hwa (臧振華), director of the National Museum of Prehistory who also attended the press conference, this culture's pottery, made of coarse paste and decorated with cord-marked impressions, is also seen in excavations found in the southeastern coast of China. Judged from radiocarbon dating and comparisons of tools and burial practices, Tsang said, the progenitors of the Tapenkeng culture may have come from the Pearl River delta region around 5000 years ago.

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