Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Recapping the Timeline II

The migrations of the Nusantao prior to 5,000 BC were related to the expansion of trade networks. Important items of exchange consisted of shell, jade and nephrite. Solheim has suggested perishable goods like rice and sugarcane were also traded.

Long distance exchange practices may have been inherited from the earlier obsidian trade in the western Pacific. Obsidian continued to be important to the Nusantao, although jade and nephrite appear to have replaced it in many cases.

With the exception of obsidian, all these items continue to show up on lists of transoceanic trade goods found thousands of years later in medieval texts.

The Sundaland flooding involved what was by far the greatest populated land mass submerged during the Holocene period. By the latter stages of these sea floods we see quite clearly the development of a coastal marine-oriented people. In some cases, the evidence points to fully-fledged sea nomads who built only semi-permanent or seasonal settlements associated with shell mounds and sand dunes.

This marine and trade orientation facilated rapid geographical expansion of settlements. Their ability to navigate the open oceans is evidenced by contacts with places like Taiwan which was then a much smaller island in the Pacific, and by blue-water mammals, fish and other species associated with their shell middens.

Competition also appears to have played a role in geographical expansion. The growth and distribution of clan emblems, and the testimony of Chinese literary sources recording ancient legends give us an idea of these conflicts.

Most of what we know about the early Nusantao, aside from that revealed through archaeology, was preserved in the form of oral tradition. In some cases, these continued solely as oral records, but in other cases they were eventually put down to writing. In most instances, the chronicles involved were not of Nusantao origin, and some are thousands of years old.

The gradual development of social stratification in cultures of coastal Neolithic China appears directly linked with the Nusantao trade. Among some of the items found in the Dawenkou burials of present-day Shandong are whole or partial tortoise shells and jade ceremonial objects from the southern Liangzhu culture. Pigs also seem to have been a symbol of social status and many pig skulls have been found in the tombs.

The largest Dawenkou tombs usually contain Liangzhu jade and ceramics and there seems to be a trade link here between the elite. There are also many elite status Lianzhu tombs near the Yangtze River, and in both cultures we find the practice of mortuary human sacrifice. This occurs only in late Dawenkou burials and may have been adopted from the Liangzhu. The latter had some advanced technologies including the use of diamonds to polish sapphire-rich stones. There are some who think they also used magnifying glasses and diamond-tipped pens in carving ornate jade ritual items. They lived in semi-subterranean dwellings and apparently utilized slaves for labor.

The evidence gives stark testimony as to how the pursuit of wealth can corrupt human behavior. Such social changes created an environment that fostered conflicts of a spiritual and social nature to augment the existing economic competition.

Paul Kekai Manansala