Ancient rice ‘first evidence’ Madagascan ancestors crossed Indian Ocean from South-East Asia

From ABC News in Science, 31 May 2016:

Ancient charred grains of rice and mung beans excavated from Madagascar provide the first archaeological evidence that ancestors of people living on the East African island known as Malagasy came from South-East Asia, scientists say.

The findings, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, add to genetic and linguistic evidence that Austronesians made the perilous journey across the Indian Ocean to colonise the island between 1,100 and 1,300 years ago.

The heritage of Madagascar’s human occupants has been one of the great puzzles of the region, lead author Alison Crowther said.

“Linguists have recognised for a long time that the languages that were spoken by the people of Madagascar were not African in origin — which is what we might expect given the proximity of Madagascar to Africa — but actually come from South-East Asia,” said Dr Crowther, a post-doctoral researcher in archaeology at the University of Queensland.

Genetic studies also indicate South-East Asian ancestry co-mingled with African ancestry, but there has been little archaeological evidence, such as pottery, that clearly linked these early populations to South-East Asia, Dr Crowther said.

“That’s why we look at plant remains, because foods are so important to identity and they are the kinds of things that people will take with them when they’re voyaging to a new land.” Read more.

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