The origin of ancient Austronesian: from the perspective of archaeological discoveries in Southeast China

Visiting Scholar Talks

Feb 8, 2023 | 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA,


Zhenyu Zhou | Professor, Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2022-23


Rowan Flad | John E. Hudson Professor of Archaeology, Harvard University

Seating is limited. Masks are required for all in-person audience members.

Co-sponsored with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

The origin and dispersal of Austronesian has always been a controversial issue in the field of Archaeology and linguistics. Here we reviewe the hypothesis about the origin and dispersal of Austronesian on linguistics and archaeology perspectives of theory, methods and materials.

We introduce the new archaeological discoveries related to the origin and dispersal of Austronesian in China. In recent years, the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and local research institutions, have carried out archaeological field work in many parts of South China. In Fujian province, Qihe Cave site in Zhangping city, Nanshan site in Mingxi county, Yanzai Cave site in Jiangle county, Donghuaqiu and Guishan sites in Pingtan island, have been excavated, yielding rich human bone materials and relics of the Neolithic Age with unique cultural characteristics. In Hainan Island, Qiaoshan and Lianziwan sites in Lingshui county, Yingdun sites in Sanya city were excavated, initially establishing the Neolithic cultural and chronological sequence in the southeastern coastal areas of Hainan Island. These works conduct by our research team provide new materials for the study of the Austronesian family, providing the possibility to probe into the communication and interaction patterns of prehistoric cultures in the South Pacific region. These discoveries open a window for researchers to pursue the evolution history of prehistoric civilizations in the Pacific Rim over the past ten thousand years.

On this basis, we hypothesize that Austronesian ancestors may have lived in the southeast coastal areas of China and spread across the South China Sea to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian islands along multiple routes driven by complex motivations. The origin and diffusion of Austronesian language is kind of wave, or  trend, not single event. The characteristic of Austronesian takes root in the prehistoric culture of the whole southeast region, and is reflected in the way of space utilization, the characteristics of residence, artifacts, the utilization of animal and plant resources, and the spiritual expression of religion, aesthetics and so on.