Diversification of Proto-Austronesian

« previous post | next post »

Important archeological news from Tainan:

South Taiwan park renovation project paused after archaeological artifacts unearthed

 Artifact pieces belonging to neolithic Niuchouzi Culture discovered, date back to 3000-4500 years ago.

By Stephanie Chiang, Taiwan News (2/26/23)

Finds include "orange-colored pottery made of fine sand-bearing rope patterns, polished hoe-axes, polished adze-chisels, and shell mounds."

The nature of this culture is intriguing in that one of its most distinctive features is the red cord-marked pottery that has been found at the Wangliao archeological site in Tainan’s Yongkang park.

The dating roughly corresponds to the estimated beginning of the diversification of Proto-Austronesian (PAN / PAn).

That in itself is enough to attract my attention, but I'm also curious about why cord-marked pottery appeared in various cultures around the world at roughly the same time-depth and is often associated with particular language horizons.

Cord-marked pottery

In Japan, the Jōmon period is named after its cord-marked* pottery. The term Jomon was coined by Edward S. Morse who discovered corded ware at the Omori site in 1867. In Taiwan, the Fengpitou (鳳鼻頭) culture, characterized by fine red cord-marked pottery, was found in Penghu and the central and southern parts of the western side of the island, and a culture with similar pottery occupied the eastern coastal areas. Archaeologically, the prehistory of Taiwan can be subdivided into at least four major cultural sequences. From earliest to most recent, these are the Changpin culture, Tapenkeng culture (coarse corded ware culture), fine corded ware culture (red cord-marked ware culture), and the proto-historical culture. There were also the eastern cord-marked cultures of eastern, central, and southern Taiwan. Pottery of the Suntangpu culture consists mainly of jars, bowls, and basins. Three main kinds of pottery: reddish sandy pottery, orange sandy pottery, and orange clay pottery, are recognized from these red cord-marked wares. Reddish Sandy pottery characterized by red coatings and dominant pyroxene tempers is considered most characteristic of Suntangpu culture. Micro-Raman spectroscopy, XRD, and SEM-EDX can be used on corded Ware pottery to unravel mineralogical composition and can also be specifically used on red cord-marked pottery to help determine whether the same raw materials were used in the red coatings and ceramic bodies by ancient Potters.

*jōmon 縄文 ("a straw-rope pattern")

Jōmon period

Jōmon people

Corded Ware culture

The Corded Ware culture* comprises a broad archaeological horizon of Europe between ca. 3000 BC – 2350 BC, thus from the late Neolithic, through the Copper Age, and ending in the early Bronze Age. Corded Ware culture encompassed a vast area, from the contact zone between the Yamnaya culture and the Corded Ware culture in south Central Europe, to the Rhine on the west and the Volga in the east, occupying parts of Northern Europe, Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The Corded Ware culture is thought to have originated from the westward migration of Yamnaya-related people from the steppe-forest zone into the territory of late Neolithic European cultures such as the Globular Amphora and Funnelbeaker cultures, and is considered to be a likely vector for the spread of many of the Indo-European languages in Europe and Asia

*German: Schnurkeramik-Kultur

People, ideas, goods, and languages travel across the globe.  They all have agency, a word that I have probably never before used in an academic sense.

I am learning.


Selected readings

[Thanks to AntC]


  1. Jerry Packard said,

    February 26, 2023 @ 4:49 pm

    The Formosan languages of Taiwan are thought to be the most archaic of the Austronesian language family, suggesting Taiwan as the geographic point of origin of the Austronesian languages.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    February 26, 2023 @ 9:12 pm

    To the question "Why do we have cord-marked pottery at many places around the world at roughly the same time (BC)?", anthropologist Heidi Mair replied, "I was taught that it was most likely the transition from basket making to pottery making. And corresponds as the article says to a more sedentary lifestyle. Then there is the question of diffusion or independent invention. It does make sense to apply clay (mud) over baskets to make them more durable and waterproof. Some groups wove waterproof vessels on a grand size – like the Apache and Paiute. They buried them in caches. I have also seen tar-like (pitch) substances applied to baskets."

  3. AntC said,

    February 27, 2023 @ 2:17 am

    Would I be right in thinking Niuchouzi (牛稠子) is a name in some indigenous language (which?); or is it a MSM exonym? (Taiwan indigenous names have got rather garbled through the languages of various colonisers as well as MSM.)

    I could find only stray references to Niuchouzi in English language resources.

  4. david said,

    February 27, 2023 @ 9:37 am

    Edward S Morse was a biologist who first visited Japan in 1877 and established a seaside laboratory. He was visited by a Japanese scientist and soon offered a professorship in zoology at the Imperial University even though he spoke no Japanese.


    The Japanese Joman period appears to be much older than the Schnurkeramik-Kultur. Could it be that the Yamnaya-related people learned corded pottery from east Asians?

RSS feed for comments on this post