Pacific people spread from Taiwan

Jan 22, 2009

New research into language evolution suggests most Pacific populations originated in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago.

Scientists at The University of Auckland have used sospisticated computer analyses on vocabulary from 400 Austronesian languages to uncover how the Pacific was settled.

"The Austronesian language family is one of the largest in the world, with 1200 languages spread across the Pacific," says Professor Russell Gray of the Department of Psychology. "The settlement of the Pacific is one of the most remarkable prehistoric human population expansions. By studying the basic vocabulary from these languages, such as words for animals, simple verbs, colours and numbers, we can trace how these languages evolved. The relationships between these languages give us a detailed history of Pacific settlement."

"Our results use cutting-edge computational methods derived from evolutionary biology on a large database of language data," says Dr Alexei Drummond of the Department of Computer Science. "By combining biological methods and linguistic data we are able to investigate big-picture questions about human origins".

The results, published in the latest issue of the prestigious journal Science, show how the settlement of the Pacific proceeded in a series of expansion pulses and settlement pauses. The Austronesians arose in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago. Before entering the Philippines, they paused for around a thousand years, and then spread rapidly across the 7,000km from the Philippines to Polynesia in less than one thousand years. After settling Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, the Austronesians paused again for another thousand years, before finally spreading further into Polynesia eventually reaching as far as New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island.

"We can link these expansion pulses to the development of new technology, such as better canoes and social techniques to deal with the great distances between islands in Polynesia," says Research Fellow Simon Greenhill. "Using these new technologies the Austronesians and Polynesians were able to rapidly spread through the Pacific in one of the greatest human migrations ever. This suggests that technological advances have played a major role in the spread of people throughout the world."

The database of Austronesian basic vocabulary can be accessed at: language.psy.auckland.ac.nz/austronesian/

Source: University of Auckland

Explore further: When it comes to how pizza looks, cheese matters

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Designing exascale computers

Jul 23, 2014

"Imagine a heart surgeon operating to repair a blocked coronary artery. Someday soon, the surgeon might run a detailed computer simulation of blood flowing through the patient's arteries, showing how millions ...

Making sense of patterns in the Twitterverse

Jun 07, 2013

If you think keeping up with what's happening via Twitter, Facebook and other social media is like drinking from a fire hose, multiply that by 7 billion – and you'll have a sense of what Court Corley wakes up to every morning.

Taiwan find may throw light on Pacific settlers

Apr 03, 2012

Taiwanese archaeologists working on an islet off China have unearthed the remains of a Stone Age male who may provide clues about ancient people who eventually dispersed throughout the entire Pacific.

Recommended for you

When it comes to how pizza looks, cheese matters

4 hours ago

Most consumers have an idea what they want their pizza slice to look like. Golden cheese with that dark toasted-cheese color scattered in distinct blistery patches across the surface with a bit of oil glistening in the valleys. ...

Freedom and responsibility of science

10 hours ago

Yesterday, the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Leopoldina National Academy of Sciences presented their recommendations for "The Freedom and Responsibility of Science" in Berlin. Both research organizations appeal ...

What I learned from debating science with trolls

Aug 20, 2014

I often like to discuss science online and I'm also rather partial to topics that promote lively discussion, such as climate change, crime statistics and (perhaps surprisingly) the big bang. This inevitably ...

Activists urge EU to scrap science advisor job

Aug 19, 2014

Nine major charities urged the European Commission on Tuesday to scrap a science advisor position it says puts too much power over sensitive policy into the hands of one person.

User comments : 0