Chinese archaeologists have discovered Austronesian settlements dating back 7300 years on Pingtan Island in Fujian province in southeast China.
The journey of Austronesian peoples over thousands of years on high waves is probably one of the oldest and largest maritime migrations in human history. Recent research by archaeologists offers important clues to trace how this saga began.
The findings reveal that these settlements were inhabited by people from a civilization that stretched from southern China to Southeast Asia, the official China Daily newspaper reported.
A research project, which began in 2021, has found a site off the coast of Fujian province thought to be between 3000 and 7500 years old, pointing to the origins of Austronesian peoples, a conference in Beijing said.
The focus of this discovery is the Xiying site on Pingtan Island in the provincial capital Fuzhou. Numerous human bones have been unearthed, indicating human habitation, and analysis shows that these people had close genetic links with other regions in South China and Southeast Asia.
Remains of houses, stone artifacts and pottery were also found at this site. “It’s direct evidence for our studies to decode early groups of Austronesian peoples,” says researcher Zhou Zhenyu from the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The findings support the theory that the Austronesian peoples living today in Taiwan, Southeast Asia, Oceania and other regions originated in southern China.
At the Keqiutou settlement, also in Pingtan and dating from 5000 to 6500 years ago, we know that different functional areas such as housing, food processing, crafts and waste dumping areas were created. The oldest known rice was also found on coastal islands in southeast China.
These discoveries help us understand the complex structures of Austronesian settlements, agriculture, crafts, public activities and the civilization they developed on Pingtan Island.
Guan Qiang, Deputy Director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, said: “These findings are of great importance for understanding the history and culture of the Austronesian people. It also contributes to insights into how marine resources were used in Austronesian settlements and how they spread around the world.
Donghuaqiu and Guishan, another pair of sites on the island, date from 3000 to 4200 years ago. They show hints of a higher level of civilization, as human settlements had spaces for public activities and ceremonies, and the residential areas were better designed.
“For the first time, we established a complete lineage of cultures along the western shore of the Taiwan Strait within that time span,” Zhou said.
Austronesian peoples refer to indigenous ethnic groups in other regions, including the island of Taiwan, parts of Southeast Asia, Micronesia, Melanesia, Madagascar, Chile’s Easter Island and Polynesia – New Zealand and Hawaii in the United States.
The maritime migrations of the Austronesian people, spanning thousands of years and covering vast distances, probably represent one of the oldest and largest maritime migrations in human history. The migrations began 6000 years ago and continued until about 1000 years ago. In today’s world, some 400 million people speak some 1200 Austronesian languages.
The Dapenkeng culture in Taiwan, dating back 4500 to 6000 years, is the oldest known Austronesian culture on the island. However, Kwang-chih Chang, a renowned Taiwanese archaeologist, has put forward a theory that the sources of the Dapenkeng culture came from mainland China.
Cover Photo: China.org