Foragers, fishers and farmers: origins of the Taiwanese Neolithicby Hsiao-chun Hung, Mike T. Carson



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Foragers, fishers and farmers: origins of the Taiwanese Neolithic

Hsiao-chun Hung1 & Mike T. Carson2


Beijing 0 km 2000


The Neolithic of Taiwan represents the first stage in the expansion of Austronesianspeaking peoples through the Pacific.

Settlement and burial evidence from the

Tapenkeng (TKP) or Dabenkeng culture demonstrates the development of the early

Taiwanese Neolithic over a period of almost 2000 years, from its origin in the pre-TPK of the Pearl River Delta and south-eastern coastal China. The first TPK communities of Taiwan pursued a mixed coastal foraging and horticultural lifestyle, but by the late

TPK rice and millet farming were practised with extensive villages and large settlements.

The broad-spectrum subsistence diversity of the Taiwanese Neolithic was an important factor in facilitating the subsequent expansion of Austronesian-speaking peoples to the Philippines and beyond.

Keywords: Taiwan, Austronesian dispersal, Tapenkeng (Dabenkeng), broad-spectrum foraging, rice farming, human migration

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The Neolithic of Taiwan marks the first settlement of sedentary groups beyond Mainland

China, by 4000 BC if not earlier (Tsang 1992; Chang 1995; Rolett et al. 2000). These developments provided the cultural and linguistic foundations for the Austronesian-speaking societies that later expanded around more than one third of the world’s circumference (Bellwood 1997, 2005; Pawley 2002; Blust 2009). Many hypotheses have been proposed for the causes of the expansion, including the spread of food production and resultant population growth (Thiel 1988: 127; Bellwood 2005), demand for valued marine and tropical forest products (Chang&Goodenough 1996: 51), the search for new trade contacts 1 Department of Archaeology and Natural History, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200,

Australia 2 Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam, UOG Station, Mangilao, Guam, GU 92963, USA

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Foragers, fishers and farmers (Thiel 1988: 127), social-cultural motivations such as founder ideology (Bellwood 1995), and environmental responses (Bellwood 2005: 135).

Taiwan’s Neolithic marked the starting point of a journey that brought Austronesianspeaking people from Taiwan to Island Southeast Asia and beyond. Recent discoveries suggest it emerged through a complicated process, perhaps involving different movements across the Taiwan Strait fromChina, with changing socio-ecological contexts over the course of several centuries. A closer look at the origins of the Taiwanese Neolithic can build a firmer understanding of how ancient Austronesian-speaking populations equipped themselves and ultimately settled throughout the Pacific.

Early Neolithic culture in Taiwan has been defined by the emergence of pottery production, polished stone tools, sedentary settlements and food production (Chang 1969).

The latter was understood by Chang to comprise horticulture for tubers such as taro and yams, rather than cultivation of cereals such as rice and millet. Archaeobotanical discoveries in the last decade now suggest that Taiwan’s Neolithic began with a broad-spectrum adaptability to variable environments in which tuber horticulture, cereal agriculture, fishing and foraging were all indispensable components of a Neolithic package. Nevertheless, a specialisation in rice and millet agriculture eventually gained prominence.

The Neolithic context in Taiwan

The Taiwanese Neolithic was the period of origin for the island’s aboriginal Austronesian populations. As Chang and Goodenough (1996: 38) observed: “Taiwan’s archaeological cultures [. . .] constitute a continuum” that continued unbroken, without any evident population replacement, from the beginning of the Neolithic onwards to the historically known Austronesian groups, that most likely were descended from Taiwanese forebears of the earliest Neolithic, with deeper origins in southern coastal China (Blust 2009).

So far, about 40 sites (Hung 2008) (Figure 1) have yielded the coarse cord-marked pottery distinctive of the period, but fewer than 10 have produced reliable radiocarbon dates. The most convincing results refer to younger assemblages (see discussion below) that generally post-date 3000 BC, notably at village sites with evidence of agriculture in south-west Taiwan (Tsang et al. 2006). Other sites could be several centuries older (Chang 1973: 525; Huang 1974: 66; Chu 2003; Yen 2013), but their contexts are not well understood.

The origins of the TaiwaneseNeolithic are best discussed from a broad regional perspective encompassing Taiwan, south-eastern coastal China and themany small islands in the Taiwan

Strait, where archaeological sites reflect mixed Neolithic economies and lifestyles. At least three questions can be addressed: 1) What was the material signature of the early Neolithic, and how did this signature vary chronologically and geographically? 2) What was the starting-date of the early Neolithic, and how does it compare with the dating of other sites in the Taiwan Strait and along the south-eastern coast of China? 3) What can be inferred about the origin and development of early Neolithic economic practices and social contexts in Taiwan?

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Hsiao-chun Hung & Mike T. Carson

Figure 1. Pre-TPK and TPK sites in the Jinmen and Mazu Islands, the Penghu Archipelago, and Taiwan. 1) Niumatou; 2)

Huilaili; 3) Niupu; 4) Nanguanli; 5) Nanguanlidong; 6) Dachangqiao; 7) Qijia; 8) Bajia; 9) Xinyuan; 10) Gangkoulun; 11) Kongzhai; 12) Fudeyemiao; 13) Liuhe; 14) Fengbitou; 15) Guoye A; 16) Beiliao; 17) Liyushan; 18) Beinan; 19)

Donghebei; 20) Xingang; 21) Zhitian II; 22) Changguang; 23) Chengzipu; 24) Zhenbing III; 25) Gangkou; 26) Yuemei II; 27) Xincheng; 28) Xiagudapu; 29) Dabenkeng (Tapenkeng); 30) Yuanshan; 31) Zhishanyan; 32) Xiaguirou II; 33) Yamuku; 34) Zhuangcuo; 35) Gezishan; 36) Linzijie; 37) Xiapidao; 38) Shuiduiwei; 39) Lanweipu; 40) Fuji; 41) Guizishan; 42)