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A northern Chinese origin of Austronesian agriculture: new evidence on traditional Formosan cereals.


ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND:Genetic data for traditional Taiwanese (Formosan) agriculture is essential for tracing the origins on the East Asian mainland of the Austronesian language family, whose homeland is generally placed in Taiwan. Three main models for the origins of the Taiwanese Neolithic have been proposed: origins in coastal north China (Shandong); in coastal central China (Yangtze Valley), and in coastal south China. A combination of linguistic and agricultural evidence helps resolve this controversial issue. RESULTS:We report on botanically informed linguistic fieldwork of the agricultural vocabulary of Formosan aborigines, which converges with earlier findings in archaeology, genetics and historical linguistics to assign a lesser role for rice than was earlier thought, and a more important one for the millets. We next present the results of an investigation of domestication genes in a collection of traditional rice landraces maintained by the Formosan aborigines over a hundred years ago. The genes controlling awn length, shattering, caryopsis color, plant and panicle shapes contain the same mutated sequences as modern rice varieties everywhere else in the world, arguing against an independent domestication in south China or Taiwan. Early and traditional Formosan agriculture was based on foxtail millet, broomcorn millet and rice. We trace this suite of cereals to northeastern China in the period 6000-5000 BCE and argue, following earlier proposals, that the precursors of the Austronesians, expanded south along the coast from Shandong after c. 5000 BCE to reach northwest Taiwan in the second half of the 4th millennium BCE. This expansion introduced to Taiwan a mixed farming, fishing and intertidal foraging subsistence strategy; domesticated foxtail millet, broomcorn millet and japonica rice; a belief in the sacredness of foxtail millet; ritual ablation of the upper incisors in adolescents of both sexes; domesticated dogs; and a technological package including inter alia houses, nautical technology, and loom weaving. CONCLUSION:We suggest that the pre-Austronesians expanded south along the coast from that region after c. 5000 BCE to reach northwest Taiwan in the second half of the 4th millennium BCE.

SUBMITTER: Sagart L 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC6179969 | BioStudies | 2018-01-01T00:00:00Z

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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