In DepthArchaeology

‘Culinary frontier’ tracks Madagascar's Asian settlers

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Science  03 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6290, pp. 1154-1155
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6290.1154

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Summary

The settlement of the Indian Ocean's largest island is one of the great mysteries in humanity's colonization of the globe. Madagascar lies just 400 kilometers off the East African coast. Yet the Malagasy people's cuisine, rituals, and religious beliefs resemble those of Borneo, some 9000 kilometers to the east. Their language is more closely related to Hawaiian than to Bantu, and about half their genes can be traced to Austronesia—Indonesia and the islands of the Pacific. Archaeological evidence of this distant connection was lacking—until now. This week, investigators report that they have traced a wave of Austronesian colonization between 700 C.E. and 1200 C.E. The telltale evidence is, in effect, breadcrumbs: crops distinctive to Austronesia, sprinkled across Madagascar and neighboring islands.

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