Tue, Oct 30, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Researchers back theory on Austronesian origins

BIRTHPLACE DNA testing of Taiwanese Aborigines shows that they are more closely related to Southeast Asian island populations than to mainland East Asia

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan could be the place from which all Austronesian peoples originated, Academia Sinica vice-president Liu Tsui-jung (劉翠溶) said yesterday, citing the results of research conducted over the past decades.

Liu made the remark during a keynote speech at the opening of a conference on issues concerning indigenous peoples worldwide organized by the International Geographical Union.

The conference, which opened in Taipei yesterday, will continue through Saturday.

The Austronesian family refers to indigenous peoples found in a region that stretches "from Taiwan in the north to New Zealand in the south, and from Easter Island in the east to Madagascar in the west," Liu said, adding that this excludes indigenous people in Australia.

For a long time, academics have attempted to trace the origin of Austronesian peoples through linguistic, anthropologist and archaeological research, and had raised several theories, Liu said.

Theories include the Indo-China Peninsula as the origin, southern China as well as the southeast coast of the Asian continent, Liu said.

Although Taiwan was first considered as a possible origin of the Austronesian peoples in 1965, it was not until 10 years later that the theory was taken seriously.

"In 1975, archeologist Richard Shutler and linguist Jeffrey Marck ... contended that archeological and linguistic evidence demonstrated that cord-marked pottery found in Taiwan from around 9000BC to 2500BC represented the earliest Austronesian community," Liu said. "Taiwan was thus the earliest homeland of the Austronesian people."

Advanced biotechnology allowed a team from New Zealand to conduct DNA tests on New Zealand Maoris in 1998.

"[The] finding reveals that Maori ancestors came originally from Taiwan and confirms Maori beliefs about their origins," Liu said.

DNA tests of 640 Taiwanese Aborigines by the Transfusion Medicine Laboratory at Mackay Memorial Hospital in 2005 also showed that "Taiwanese Aboriginal populations are more closely related to Southeast Asian island populations than to those from mainland East Asia," overturning earlier continental origin theories, Liu said.

In addition to Liu's keynote speech, relations between the state and its Aboriginal populations, as well as Taiwan's Aboriginal cultural and knowledge systems, were also explored by academics in essays presented at the conference.

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