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Based on the current scientific consensus, they originate from a prehistoric seaborne migration from Taiwan, at around 3000 to 1500 BCE, known as the Austronesian expansion (although there are competing hypotheses that place their origins within Island Southeast Asia itself).
Austronesians were the first people to invent maritime sailing technology (most notably catamarans, outrigger boats, lashed-lug boat building, and the crab claw sail) which enabled their rapid dispersal into the islands of the Indo-Pacific.
Aside from language, Austronesian peoples also share—to a varying degree—common cultural characteristics including widespread traditions and technologies like tattooing, stilt houses, jade carving, wetland agriculture, and various rock art motifs.
They also share a common set of domesticated plants and animals that were carried along with the migrations, including rice, bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, Dioscorea yams, taro, paper mulberry, chickens, pigs, and dogs.
The Spanish philologist Lorenzo Hervás y Panduro later devoted a large part of his Idea dell' Universo (1778-1787) to the establishment of a language family linking the Malaysian Peninsula, the Maldives, Madagascar, the Sunda Islands, Moluccas, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands eastward to Easter Island.
Multiple other authors corroborated this classification (except for the erroneous inclusion of Maldivian), and the language family came to be known as 'Malayo-Polynesian,' first coined by the German linguist Franz Bopp in 1841 (German: malayisch-polynesisch).
The term 'Malayo-Polynesian' was also first used in English by the British ethnologist James Cowles Prichard in 1842 to refer to a historical racial category roughly equivalent to the Austronesian peoples today, and not to the language family.
This is especially true for authors who reject the prevailing 'Out of Taiwan' hypothesis and instead offer scenarios where the Austronesian languages spread among preexisting static populations through borrowing or convergence, with little or no population movements.
Despite these objections, the general consensus is that the archeological, cultural, genetic, and especially linguistic evidence all separately indicate varying degrees of shared ancestry among Austronesian-speaking peoples that justifies their treatment as a 'phylogenetic unit.'
Regardless certain disagreements still exist among researchers with regards to chronology, origin, dispersal, adaptations to the island environments, interactions with preexisting populations in areas they settled, and cultural developments over time.
But there are multiple rival models that create a sort of 'pseudo-competition' among their supporters due to narrow focus on data from limited geographic areas or disciplines.
Prior to the 16th century Colonial Era, the Austronesian language family was the most widespread language family in the world, spanning half the planet from Easter Island in the eastern Pacific Ocean to Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean.
It is spoken today by about 386 million people (4.9% of the global population), making it the fifth-largest language family by number of speakers.
The vast majority lie within ten degrees of the equator, with predominantly tropical or subtropical climates with considerable seasonal rainfall.
In 2009, Roger Blench compiled an expanded map of Austronesia that encompass these claims based on various evidence like historical accounts, loanwords, introduced plants and animals, genetics, archeological sites, and material culture.
The broad consensus on Austronesian origins is the 'two-layer model' where an original Paleolithic indigenous population in Island Southeast Asia were assimilated to varying degrees by incoming migrations of Neolithic Austronesian-speaking peoples from Taiwan and southern China from around 4,000 BP.
Island Southeast Asia was settled by modern humans in the Paleolithic following coastal migration routes, presumably starting before 70,000 BP, long before the development of Austronesian cultures.
These populations are typified by having dark skin, curly hair, and short statures, leading Europeans to believe they were related to African Pygmies in the scientific racism of the 19th century.
These early population groups originally lacked watercraft technology, and thus could only cross narrow interisland seas with primitive floats or rafts (likely bamboo or log rafts) or through accidental means.
These people are generally historically referred to as 'Australo-Melanesians' or 'Australoids', though the terminology is problematic as they are genetically diverse and most groups within Austronesia have significant Austronesian admixture and culture.
In modern literature, descendants of these groups located in Island Southeast Asia west of Halmahera are usually collectively referred to as 'Negritos', while descendants of these groups east of Halmahera (excluding Indigenous Australians) are referred to as 'Papuans'.
These populations are genetically distinct from later Austronesians, but through fairly extensive population admixture, most modern Austronesians have varying levels of ancestry from these groups.
Tracing Austronesian prehistory in mainland China and Taiwan has been difficult due to obliteration of most traces of Austronesian culture by the recent southward expansion of the Han Chinese into southern China since at least the terminal Neolithic (4500 to 4000 BP), the southward expansion of the Han dynasty (2nd century BCE), and the recent Qing dynasty annexation of Taiwan (1683 CE).
Nevertheless, based on linguistic, archaeological, and genetic evidence, Austronesians are most strongly associated with the early farming cultures of the Yangtze River basin that domesticated rice from around 13,500 to 8,200 BP.
They display typical Austronesian technological hallmarks, including tooth removal, teeth blackening, jade carving, tattooing, stilt houses, advanced boat-building, aquaculture, wetland agriculture, and the domestication of dogs, pigs, and chickens.
Under that view, there was an east-west genetic alignment, resulting from a rice-based population expansion, in the southern part of East Asia: Austroasiatic-Kra-Dai-Austronesian, with unrelated Sino-Tibetan occupying a more northerly tier.
While the Austric hypothesis remains contentious, there is genetic evidence that at least in western Island Southeast Asia there had been earlier Neolithic overland migrations (pre-4,000 BP) by Austroasiatic-speaking peoples into what is now the Greater Sunda Islands when the sea levels were lower in the early Holocene.
Several authors have also proposed that Kra-Dai speakers may actually be an ancient daughter subgroup of Austronesians that migrated back to the Pearl River delta from Taiwan and/or Luzon shortly after the Austronesian expansion.
Aside from linguistic evidence, Roger Blench has also noted cultural similarities between the two groups, like facial tattooing, tooth removal or ablation, teeth blackening, snake (or dragon) cults, and the multiple-tongued jaw harps shared by the Indigenous Taiwanese and Kra-Dai-speakers.
The sound correspondences between Old Chinese and Proto-Austronesian can also be explained as a result of the Longshan interaction sphere, when pre-Austronesians from the Yangtze region came into regular contact with Proto-Sinitic speakers in the Shandong Peninsula at around the 4th to 3rd millennia BCE.
In relation to Sino-Austronesian models and the Longshan interaction sphere, Roger Blench (2014) suggests that the single migration model for the spread of the Neolithic into Taiwan is problematic, pointing out the genetic and linguistic inconsistencies between different Taiwanese Austronesian groups.
Blench considers the Austronesians in Taiwan to have been a melting pot of immigrants from various parts of the coast of eastern China that had been migrating to Taiwan by 4,000 BP These immigrants included people from the foxtail millet-cultivating Longshan culture of Shandong (with Longshan-type cultures found in southern Taiwan), the fishing-based Dapenkeng culture of coastal Fujian, and the Yuanshan culture of northernmost Taiwan which Blench suggests may have originated from the coast of Guangdong.
notes the Neolithic appeared on the coast of Fujian around 6,000 BP During the Neolithic, the coast of Fujian had a low population density, with the population depending on mostly on fishing and hunting, alongside with limited agriculture.
For various reasons, they proposed that the homelands of Austronesians were within Island Southeast Asia (ISEA), particularly in the Sundaland landmass drowned during the end of the last glacial period by rising sea levels.
He concluded that this meant that ancestral populations in the region of Sundaland were the primary ancestors of all Asians who migrated northwards as the sea levels rose, in opposition to the prevailing 'Out of Taiwan' hypothesis.
Although sea level rise was mostly gradual starting from ~19,000 years ago in the last glacial period, other studies have shown that there were likely three episodes of catastrophic rise events at approximately ~14,500, ~11,500, and ~7,500 years ago caused by ice sheet collapse.
They concluded that these sudden sea level floodings triggered mass population displacements from ISEA and were the initial conditions that triggered the development of the maritime technologies that later defined Austronesian culture.
In particular they pinpointed the region between the Sulu Sea and the Sulawesi Sea, as the likely point of origin of a pre-adapted maritime culture that expanded north towards Taiwan and east to New Guinea and the Pacific, using the genetic evidence of the dispersal of Haplogroup E as well as putative archeological evidence with the 'flake-blade' stone tool assemblages found in the Philippines and Taiwan.
Findings from HUGO (Human Genome Organization) in 2009 further corroborated the studies when it concluded that Asia was populated primarily through a single migration event out of Africa whereby an early population first entered South East Asia before they moved northwards to East Asia.
Unlike the earlier studies which focused only on mtDNA, the new study used whole genome data, allowing them to study hundreds of thousands of ancestors, not just one lineage.
Contrary to the claim of a south-to-north migration in the 'Out of Sundaland' hypothesis, the new whole genome analysis strongly confirms the north-to-south dispersal of the Austronesian peoples in the prevailing 'Out of Taiwan' hypothesis.
The researchers further pointed out that while humans have been living in Sundaland for at least 40,000 years, the Austronesian people were recent arrivals, and the results of the previous studies failed to take into account admixture between them.
I think the scientists who claim an ‘Out of Sundaland’ origin for Austronesians are confusing the ancient presence of humans in Sundaland with the spread of Austronesians In 2016, proponents of 'Out of Sundaland' in Brandão et al.
But they proposed that rather than a monolithic 'Austronesian expansion' as posited by the 'Out of Taiwan' model, it was instead a process of cultural diffusion and assimilation that brought linguistic and cultural changes (particularly rice cultivation) but had relatively minor genetic impact (an average of 20%) on preexisting populations in ISEA.
Furthermore, they interpret the low genetic contributions of Taiwanese aboriginals to ISEA mtDNA lineags as evidence that Taiwanese aborigines did not contribute significantly to the later southward expansion.
Rather the expansion was largely the spread of rice-farming Austronesians from the south China passing through Taiwan at around 7000 to 6000 years ago before entering ISEA again at around ~4.5 thousand years ago.
By examining 10 microsatelite loci, researchers found that there are 2 genetically distinct subpopulations of coconut – one originating in the Indian Ocean, the other in the Pacific Ocean.
Western Europeans in search of spices and gold later colonized most of the Austronesian-speaking countries of the Asia-Pacific region, beginning from the 16th century with the Portuguese and Spanish colonization of some parts of Indonesia (present day East Timor), the Philippines, Palau, Guam, and the Mariana Islands;
Early researchers like Heine-Geldern (1932) and Hornell (1943) once believed that catamarans evolved from outrigger canoes, but modern authors specializing in Austronesian cultures like Doran (1981) and Mahdi (1988) now believe it to be the opposite.
Eventually the smaller hull became the prototype outrigger, giving way to the single outrigger canoe, then to the reversible single outrigger canoe.
In contrast, more distant outlying descendant populations in Micronesia and Polynesia retained the double-hull and the single outrigger canoe types, but the technology for double outriggers never reached them (although it exists in western Melanesia).
To deal with the problem of the instability of the boat when the outrigger faces leeward when tacking, they instead developed the shunting technique in sailing, in conjunction with reversible[note 5]
These were fitted tightly together edge-to-edge with dowels inserted into holes in between, and then lashed to each other with ropes (made from rattan or fiber) wrapped around protruding lugs on the planks.
They were commonly caulked with pastes made from various plants as well as tapa bark and fibers which would expand when wet, further tightening joints and making the hull watertight.
The triangular crab claw sails also later developed into square or rectangular tanja sails, which like crab claw sails, had distinctive booms spanning the upper and lower edges.
The ancient Champa of Vietnam also uniquely developed basket-hulled boats whose hulls were composed of woven and resin-caulked bamboo, either entirely or in conjunction with plank strakes.
The acquisition of the catamaran and outrigger technology by the non-Austronesian peoples in Sri Lanka and southern India is due to the result of very early Austronesian contact with the region, including the Maldives and the Laccadive Islands, estimated to have occurred around 1000 to 600 BCE and onwards.
For example, Tamil paṭavu, Telugu paḍava, and Kannada paḍahu, all meaning 'ship', are all derived from Proto‑Hesperonesian *padaw, 'sailboat', with Austronesian cognates like Javanese perahu, Kadazan padau, Maranao padaw, Cebuano paráw, Samoan folau, Hawaiian halau, and Maori wharau.
Outside of Taiwan, assemblages of red-slipped pottery, plainware, and incised and stamped pottery associated with the Austronesian migrations are first documented from around 2000 to 1800 BCE in the northern Philippines, from sites in the Batanes Islands and the Cagayan Valley of Northern Luzon.
Pottery was absent in subsequent migrations to the rest of Remote Oceania, being replaced instead with carved wooden or bamboo containers, bottle gourds, and baskets.
However, the geometric designs and stylized figures used in the pottery are still present in other surviving artforms like in tattooing, weaving, and barkcloth patterns.
In most cases, the earliest burial jars used were large indigenous earthenware jars, followed by indigenous or imported stoneware jars (martaban), and finally imported porcelain jars acquired from the burgeoning maritime trade with China and Mainland Southeast Asia at around the 14th century CE.
All of them began to produce various tools and ornaments in indigenous jade workshops, including adzes, bracelets, beads, and rings.
The most notable jade products of these regions were the vast amounts of earrings and pendants known as lingling-o, primarily produced in the Philippines though with jade sourced from eastern Taiwan.
They were indicative of a very active ancient maritime trading region that imported and exported raw jade and finished jade ornaments.
They were produced during a period between 500 BCE to as late as 1000 CE, although later examples were replaced with metal, wood, bone, or shell materials, rather than jade.
Polished and ground stone adzes, gouges, and other implements, some of which are made from jade-like stone, have also been recorded in areas of Island Melanesia and eastern New Guinea associated with the Lapita culture.
They include various tools and weapons like adzes, scrapers, fishing hooks, and mere, as well as ornaments like the hei-tiki and hei matau.
Certain ornaments like the pekapeka (double-headed animal pendant) and the kākā pōria (bird leg ring) bear remarkably strong resemblances to the double-headed and ring-type lingling‑o.
(2011) has suggested that the reappearance of these motifs might be evidence of a preserved tradition of Southeast Asian jade motifs (perhaps carved in perishable wood, bone, or shell by Polynesians prior to the reacquisition of a jade source), or they might even be the result of a later Iron Age contact between eastern Polynesia and the Philippines.
Despite proximity, these traditions can be distinguished readily from the Australo-Melanesian rock art traditions of Australia (except the Torres Strait Islands) as well as the interior highlands of New Guinea, indicating the borders of the extent of the Austronesian expansion.
Dating rock art is difficult, but some of the sites subjected to direct dating pre-date Austronesian arrival, like the Lene Hara paintings of East Timor which has an age range of 6,300 to 26,000 BP.
The depictions of pottery, ships, and metal objects, for example, put certain rock art sites at a range of 2,000 to 4,000 BP.
They are characteristically rendered in red ochre pigments for the earlier forms, later sometimes superseded by paintings done in black charcoal pigments.
Their common motifs include hand stencils, 'sun-ray' designs, boats, and active human figures with headdresses or weapons and other paraphernalia.
The most recognizable motifs of APT (like boats) do not occur in cave paintings (or engravings) that definitely pre-date the Austronesian arrival, the sole exception being the stenciled hand motif.
(2015) proposes that APT developed during the initial rapid southward Austronesian expansion, and not before, possibly as a response to the communication challenges brought about by the new maritime mode of living.
Along with AES, these material symbols and associated rituals and technologies may been the manifestations of 'powerful ideologies' spread by Austronesian settlers that were central to the 'Neolithization' and rapid assimilation of the various non-Austronesian indigenous populations of ISEA and Melanesia.
While their art traditions show clear continuation of the APT and AES traditions, they also feature innovations unique to each island group, like the increasing use of black charcoal, rectilinear motifs, and being found more inside sacred caves rather than in open cliffsides.
The Pohnpaid petroglyphs are the largest assemblage of rock engravings in the region, with motifs dominated by footprints, enveloped crosses, and outlined 'sword-paddles'.
In the low-lying atolls of eastern Micronesia, rock art is rare to nonexistent, due to the absence of suitable rock surfaces for painting or engraving.
In Tonga and Samoa, the existing rock art sites consist mostly of engravings with motifs including curvilinear shapes, human figures, 'jellyfish', turtles, birds, and footprints.
They show the archetypal Polynesian motifs of turtles, faces, cup-like depressions (cupules), stick-like human figures, boats, fish, curvilinear shapes, and concentric circles.
Their common subjects include stick-like human figures, dogs, boats, sails, paddles, footprints, and ceremonial headdresses.
Their motifs commonly include disembodied parts of the human body (vulvae in particular), animals, plants, ceremonial objects, and boats.
They typically depict human figures (particularly a front facing human figure with flexed arms), birds, lizards, dogs, fish, and what has been identified as 'birdmen'.
Engravings in open spaces like cliffsides are generally of spirals and curvilinear shapes, while engravings in enclosed caves and shelters depict faces and boats.
With the possible exception of rongorongo on Rapa Nui, Austronesians did not have an indigenous writing system but rather adopted or developed writing systems after contact with various non-Austronesian cultures.
Rongorongo, said to have originally been called kohau motu mo rongorongo ('lines of inscriptions for chanting out'), is the only pre-contact indigenous Austronesian system of glyphs that appear to be true writing or at least proto-writing.
They were inscribed into wooden tablets about 12 to 20 in (30 to 51 cm) long using shark teeth and obsidian flakes.
The literate ruling classes of the Rapa Nui people (including the royal family and the religious caste) and the majority of the island's population were kidnapped or killed in the slave raids.
Some authors have proposed that rongorongo may have been an attempt to imitate European script after the idea of writing was introduced during the 'signing' of the 1770 Spanish Treaty of Annexation or through knowledge of European writing acquired elsewhere.
They cite various reasons including the lack of attestation of rongorongo prior to the 1860s, the clearly more recent provenance of some of the tablets, the lack of antecedents, and the lack of additional archaeological evidence since its discovery.
Whether rongorongo is merely an example of trans-cultural diffusion, or a true indigenous Austronesian writing system (and one of the few independent inventions of writing in human history) remains unknown and may never be known.
a result of the difference in writing mediums, with the former being ideal for writing on soft leaves and the latter ideal for writing on bamboo panels.
Abjads, however, have an even greater inherent problem with encoding Austronesian languages than abugidas, because Austronesian languages have more varied and salient vowels which the Arabic script can not usually encode.
As a result, the Austronesian adaptations such as the Jawi and the Pegon scripts have been modified with a system of diacritics that encode sounds, both vowels and consonants, native to Austronesian languages but absent in Semitic languages.
Building structures on pilings is believed to be derived from the design of raised granaries and storehouses, which are highly important status symbols among the ancestrally rice-cultivating Austronesians.
The rice granary shrine was also the archetypal religious building among Austronesian cultures and was used to store carvings of ancestor spirits and local deities.
These areas are usually not part of the regular living space, and may only be accessible to certain members of the family or after performing a specific ritual.
Other parts of the house may also be associated with certain deities, and thus certain activities like receiving guests or conducting marriage ceremonies can only be performed in specific areas.
A special type of pataka supported by a single tall post also had ritual importance and were used to isolate high-born children during their training for leadership.
Because of this, archaeological records of prehistoric Austronesian structures are usually limited to traces of house posts, with no way of determining the original building plans.
They can also be reconstructed linguistically from shared terms for architectural elements, like ridge-poles, thatch, rafters, house posts, hearth, notched log ladders, storage racks, public buildings, and so on.
Waterson (2009) has also argued that the architectural tradition of stilt houses is originally Austronesian, and that similar building traditions in Japan and mainland Asia (notably among Kra-Dai and Austroasiatic-speaking groups) correspond to contacts with a prehistoric Austronesian network.
Mythologies vary by culture and geographical location but share common basic aspects such as ancestor worship, animism, shamanism and the beliefe in a spirit world and powerful deities.
2007 analysis of the DNA recovered from human remains in archeological sites of prehistoric peoples along the Yangtze River in China also shows high frequencies of Haplogroup O1 in the Neolithic Liangzhu culture, linking them to Austronesian and Tai-Kadai peoples.
- On 19. juni 2021
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