Ancient Rice And Mung Beans Helped Solve A Longstanding Madagascan Mystery

Posted: May 31 2016, 8:40am CDT | by , Updated: May 31 2016, 8:24pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Ancient Rice and Mung Beans Helped Solve a Longstanding Madagascan Mystery
Crop remains were obtained from sediments in the archaeological sites. Credit: Nicole Boivin

The analysis of ancient crops reveal that early inhabitants of Madagascar share ancestry with Southeast Asians.

Scientists believe they have just solved one of the longstanding mysteries of the ancient world. 

The origin of theMalagasy language has baffled archeologists over the years. People of Madagascar speak this language which is closely related to those spoken in Southeast Asia and Pacific- thousands of kilometers away from Madagascar. 

The similarity of language indicates a connection between the two but until now there has been no valid archeological evidence found that can link those people to South East Asians.

After struggling for decades to find any evidence, an international team of researchers have finally found some clues. They have analyzed the remains of ancient rice and mung beans which remained buried in various archeological sites across Madagascar and were recently excavated from the sediments. And these crops remains confirm that inhabitants of Madagascar do share close ancestry with Southeast Asians. This is the first strong archeological evidence of the presence of South Asian settlers in the Island, indicating they might have colonized Madagascar over a thousand years ago.

“Southeast Asians clearly brought crops from their homeland and grew and subsisted on them when they reached Africa. This means that archaeologists can use crop remains as evidence to provide real material insights into the history of the island. There are a lot of things we still don't understand about Madagascar's past; it remains one of our big enigmas. But what is exciting is that we finally have a way of providing a window into island’s highly mysterious Southeast Asian settlement and distinguishing it from settlements by mainland Africans that we know also happened."  Dr Nicole Boivin from University of Oxford said.

Researchers have identified around 2,500 individual crop remains from a total of 18 ancient settlement sites in Madagascar including Pemba, Zanzibar and the Comoros. Using a system of sieves and water, they examined the residue recovered from the sediments and found that crops might have been brought to the island by the 8th and 10th century.

Data also suggests that South Asians not only established colony in Madagascar but also in the neighboring islands of Comoros. 

“This took us by surprise. After all, people in the Comoros speak African languages and they don't look like they have Southeast Asian ancestry in the way that populations on Madagascar do,” said lead researcher Dr Alison Crowther from the University of Queensland. “What was amazing to us was the stark contrast that emerged between the crops on the Eastern African coast and the offshore islands versus those on Madagascar, but also the Comoros. And the more we look, the starker the contrast become.”

“The ancient crop findings on the Eastern African coast and nearest islands were heavily dominated by African crops- species like sorghum, pearl millet and baobab that had been present on the east African coast already for some centuries, brought by farmers across the continent. In contrast, samples taken from sites on Madagascar contained few or no African corps. Instead they are dominated by Asian spices like Asian rice, mung bean and Asian cotton.

The past of Madagascar is still mysterious in many ways. Therefore, researchers are planning to return to Madagascar and continue investigation for further discoveries. 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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