“ Our data show very substantial amounts of human impact on the nvironment over thousands of years. ” — jed kaplan, page 17
In the News
Rising sea levels
China to Taiwan
cultivated seafaring, not rice
By Bruce Bower
Arising tide lifts all boats, but in a surprising twist, ascending sea levels launched a flotilla of rafts or canoes on voyages
from China to Taiwan around 5,000
years ago, a new study suggests.
At a time when rice farming dominated in other regions, the inundation of
the Fuzhou Basin in southeastern China
beginning about 9,000 years ago led to
the creation of a maritime culture that
eventually took to the seas, says a team
led by archaeologist Barry Rolett of the
University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Coastal residents of southeastern China navigate waterways today on bamboo
rafts like this one. Island dwellers in the region took sea voyages as far as Taiwan
5,000 years ago, perhaps using similar rafts equipped with sails, researchers say.
6,000 years ago
Research sites and the modern city of
Fuzhou are shown on a map of the Min
River delta coastline in southeastern
China during a period of higher sea level.
Analyses of sediment cores extracted
from the Fuzhou Basin indicate that,
at that time, the kind of marshy areas
needed for rice paddies disappeared
under rising seas. What are hilltops in
the region today were islands no more
than one mile across.
Locals built outposts on newly
minted islands starting around 5,500
years ago and honed their nautical
skills, probably using wooden canoes or
bamboo rafts to obtain fish and other
aquatic food in a vast estuary, Rolett
and his colleagues report in the April
Quaternary Science Reviews. A largely
rice-free, maritime lifestyle eventually
enabled sea voyages of 130 kilometers
to Taiwan, Rolett proposes. Farming
villages first appeared on Taiwan about
5,000 years ago.
Rolett’s findings challenge a popular
scientific view that a transition to village
life farther north in China around 8,000
years ago triggered rice-fueled population growth that spread southward. In
that scenario, shortages of marshy land
suitable for rice paddies motivated sea
crossings to Taiwan, possibly originating just north of the Fuzhou Basin in the
Yangtze River Delta, where researchers
have found a 7,700-year-old canoe and
three wooden paddles.
“People of the Fuzhou Basin lived on
little islands in an estuary that favored
maritime activities and seafaring,”
Rolett says. “Rice farming was not part
of the equation.” Small amounts of rice
could have been tended on patches of dry
land watered by rain, he holds.
Rolett’s evidence that fishing and
seafaring dwarfed rice growing in a submerged section of southeastern China,
possibly prompting Taiwan’s colonization, “is quite plausible,” comments
archaeologist Robert Bettinger of the
University of California, Davis.
April 23, 2011 | science news | 5