Tue, Aug 15, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Team unearths ancient grains of rice in science park

By Kuo Yi-jun  /  STAFF REPORTER

When did people first begin growing rice in Taiwan?

At least 4,800 years ago, according to new archeological evidence discovered by researchers.

According to Cheng-hwa Tsang (臧振華), a research fellow in the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica who is leading an archeological excavation in the Southern Taiwan Science Park, tens of thousands of grains of carbonized rice have been unearthed in the park.

Four milennia

The oldest of the grains date back 4,800 years.

Tsang's archeological group has teamed up with Hsing Yue-Ie (邢禹依), also a research fellow in Academia Sinica's Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology, using an electron microscope and other devices to further study the grains.

They discovered that the grains are unusually small, suggesting that the rice was cultivated, although they were unclear on how they drew this conclusion.

The marked difference in size and shape between rice discovered in the park and wild rice indicates that inhabitants on Taiwan had already learned how to grow and harvest rice more than 4 millennia ago.

The only ancient millet found in Taiwan was also unearthed at excavation sites in the Southern Taiwan Science Park. The millet also dates back 4,800 years ago, and reveals much about when inhabitants first engaged in agriculture in Taiwan, and how such grains evolved into the crops widely cultivated by Aborigines in modern times.

Unfortunately, DNA tests are unlikely to reveal which species of rice the carbonized finds belong to, Tsang said, adding that his team could only conduct a morphological analysis at present.

He will seek out foreign experts to assist him and his colleagues in further analyzing the rice.

Early dining habits

Meanwhile, the director of the Anthropology Department in the National Museum of Natural Science, He Chuan-kun (何傳坤), had other insights about the eating habits of the first humans in Taiwan.

He said that the skeletal remains of many sika deer, sambar deer, and Formosan barking deer have been found in the central region of Taiwan. An analysis of the deer bones would reveal how early Taiwanese inhabitants prepared and devoured the animals, He said.

For example, a chemical analysis would reveal if the deer were boiled or roasted.

In the past, archeologists valued intact skeletal remains over partial skeletal remains, but have recently discovered that broken bones tend to reveal more about how early humans prepared and processed their meat, He added.

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