Out of Formosa

Two articles recently published in Science help confirm the “Out of Taiwan” theory on the origins of human migration across the Pacific. Wired Science reports:

By tracking the evolution of language and gut bacteria, scientists may have settled a debate over the spread of humans across the Pacific.

The evolutionary trajectory implied by words and bugs begins with an initial migration from Taiwan 5,000 years ago, with a first wave of people spreading to the Philippines and a second to western Polynesia.

The idea that the Austronesian speaking peoples originated from Taiwan is not new. There are several competing theories, however the out of Taiwan theory is the one that has the most support. Linguist Robert Blust and archaeologist Peter Bellwood are the two academics who have gathered much of the evidence to support the theory.

There are no written records of the Austronesian speaking peoples so understanding their history depends on putting together linguistic, archaeological, anthropological and DNA evidence. Jared Diamond wrote in an article in Nature in 2000:

This linguistic evidence for the Austronesian expansion correlates well with archaeological evidence. Studies of pots, tools and bones have shown that all farming in the Pacific outside New Guinea stems from the colonization of Taiwan by south Chinese farmers by around 4300 BC, followed by their expansion through the Philippines and Indonesia to Polynesia, the Malay peninsula and Madagascar. Of course, pots do not talk, and it can be impossible to guess the languages spoken by the pot-makers. But in the Pacific, identifying the potmakers is easy, because all Polynesian islands were uninhabited until the arrival of people making so-called Lapita pots began at around 1200 BC, and there is no archaeological evidence for arrivals of other peoples after them. Because all traditional languages throughout Polynesia are Austronesian, those first potters must have spoken Austronesian languages.