Polynesians Originated in Taiwan?

By tracking the evolution of language and gut bacteria, scientists may have settled a debate over the spread of humans across the Pacific.

The evolutionary trajectory implied by words and bugs begins with an initial migration from Taiwan 5,000 years ago, with a first wave of people spreading to the Philippines and a second to western Polynesia.

The findings, writes University of Cambridge archaeologist Colin Renfrew, “mark a substantial advance in our understanding of human population history” — and they involve some cutting-edge archaeological sleuthing to boot.

Physical remains, rather than linguistic patterns and microbes, are the preferred form of evidence for human migratory maps. Population genetics has also proved useful, with the progressive differences between modern and ancient DNA samples forming a biological tapestry of human history. But archaeologists attempting to understand the settlement of far-flung Pacific islands have been stymied by a lack of hard evidence, and genetic studies have proven inconclusive.

As a result, some historians concluded that settlement occurred gradually, over the last 30,000 years, by descendants of an initial population from inland southeast Asia — the so-called “slow boat from Wallacea” theory. Others hypothesized a recent, Taiwan-based origin…

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