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Ancient Crops Shed Light on Madagascar Migration Mystery

Jun 02, 2016 05:53 PM EDT
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A new study involving over 2,500 seeds suggests that people from Austonesians origins have migrated to Madagascar and nearby Comoro Islands and inhabited the land between 1,000 and 1,200 years ago.
(Photo : Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A new study involving ancient crops shed some light on how people from South East Asia end up on the African Island of Madagascar, 6,000 km away.

Previously, linguistic and genetic evidences revealed that inhabitants of Madagascar share close ancestry with Malaysians, Polynesians, and other speakers of what is classed the Austronesian language family. However, archeological evidences that are found in Madagascar, which were believed to be from the first millennium, provide no concrete proof that they were of Austronesian origins.

Now, a recent study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provided concrete archeological evidences proving that people from Austronesian origins have traveled and colonized Madagascar and nearby islands of Comoro.

"We've been able to not only to show for the first time an archaeological signature of Austronesians, we've also shown that it seems to extend beyond Madagascar. This is really exciting, and highlights how much we still have to learn about this fascinating migration," said Dr Nicole Boivin, project leader from the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford and Director of the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, in a statement.

For the study, researchers examined over 2,500 seed remains excavated from 18 sites across Madagascar, Comoro Islands and other spots in Africa's eastern coast. They then identified and dated each seed using radiocarbon.

Researchers discovered a distinct pattern from the seeds dated back to 8th and 10th centuries AD. They noticed that crops that are native to Africa were concentrated to mainland and other islands closest to the mainland, while Madagascar and Comoro Islands were more focused on Asian crops, which include Asian rice, mung bean and cotton.

This suggests that it is plausible that people from Asia have undergone long distance voyages across the Indian Ocean to migrate in Africa.

"The origins of Southeast Asian settlers in Africa has long puzzled historians and archaeologists. This is the first really clear archaeological evidence that they did indeed make extraordinary journeys across 4,000 miles of the Indian Ocean during the first millennium AD," explained Professor Mark Horton of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol, who led the excavations for the project on Zanzibar and Comoros, in a press release.

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