Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Nusantao Trade Network

Solheim writes about the northern expansions: "I hypothesize that any time that maritime people in their explorations would come across the mouth of a large river, they would have moved up the river making contact with the local inhabitants and not have stayed totally along the coast." (Solheim 2000)

All indications point to the maritime Nusantao as expert seafarers. Often their sites had bones of sea mammals that could only be obtained after lengthy blue-water voyages. Their semi-permanent dwellings indicated that they moved seasonally over water as part of their lifestyle. Naturally they would settle on the coast, along river banks and lake shores.

In addition to the archaeological evidence, Solheim believes the Nusantao migrations help account for three sets of linguistics relationships that exist between Austronesian and other East Asian languages.

Others have suggested that these relationships are genetic links: Paul Benedict has postulated a family called Austro-Tai creating a link with Daic languages such as Thai and Laotian. He latter expanded Austro-Tai to include Japanese and Hmong-Mien. Schichiro Murayama had suggested Malayo-Polynesian influence but not genetic relationship with Japanese.

More recently, Laurent Sagart has proposed that Sino-Tibetan languages and Austronesian descend from a shared proto-language.

Solheim, however, believes that the first two links are the result of massive early borrowing with Nusantao traders. Firstly, contacts with Daic speakers near the Yangtze, and then with Korean and Japanese speakers during the transfer of Yayoi culture from Shandong and Korea to Japan.

We might add also this as a possible explanation for the Sino-Tibetan similarities. Certainly it does not seem that all these languages were related.

Proto-Sino-Tibetan, for example, was likely tonal and monosyllabic as this appears as a family trait of Sino-Tibetan languages. Most languages that have been in contact with Sino-Tibetan languages for some time tend to pick up some of these traits as in the example of Mon-Khmer languages.

Neither Austronesian, Korean or Japanese show anything roughly similar to this type of influence on their sound systems.

The Nusantao may have obtained their penchant for seafaring and trading from the earliest people in the region, many of whom doubtless were their ancestors. From very early dates in the Paleolithic, there are indications of settlement and trade that involved long sea voyages in the region of Australia and Melanesia (New Britain).

Some of the earliest evidence of long-range sea trade in the world is the regional exchange of the volcanic glass known as obsidian.

In mainland Southeast Asia, we first see evidence of trade in the presence of shell tools in highland areas far from the coast, and stone tools in coastal regions without stones. Solheim also believes at least two important agricultural products were traded -- rice and sugarcane -- and thus the common words for these products over much of this region.

The widest evidence for trade though comes from the presence of jade and nephrite in large quantities that seems quite likely to come in all cases from the Yangtze region. They occur in the Middle Neolithic culture of Shandong known as the Dawenkou and a bit north in the latter Hongshan culture.

Jade and nephrite have been found at neolithic sites in Batangas and Palawan in the Philippines. The presence of nephrite adzes indicates large quantities of this material in a location not known to have any natural sources.

Later, possibly by about 5500 years ago, particular types of jade/nephrite ornaments of the lingling-o and bicephalous (double-headed) type appear. Solheim sees these as strong evidence of the Nusantao trade.

The nature of these ornaments, as we will explore later, are clan-related.

Now at about this same time (pre-5000 BC), we see shell mounds popping up at Ubaid sites in the Persian Gulf. Oppenheimer has noted that the Ubaid sites contain pretty much the same inventory as those in the SE Asian Neolithic -- quadrangular stone adzes, stone hoes, clay sinkers and spindle whorls, beads, discs and painted pottery.

The Ubaid culture is thought to have given risen to the culture of the Sumerians some 5500 years ago.