Archives for the month of: March, 2017

A question that haunts archaeologists: Who were Taiwan’s first farmers? Were they descended from indigenous hunter-gatherers who walked across Pleistocene land bridges, or from Chinese farmers who floated across the Taiwan Strait 6,000 years ago?

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A sleepy face? A pregnant torso? Neolithic figure at the A’tolan site, eastern Taiwan.

Or were the first farmers the result of cultural blending, intermarriage, and exchanges like this:

“Hi, we just got in. Have you ever tried planting rice? It’s tasty!”

“Nice to meet you. Looks like a lot of trouble. I like our fish, boars, and wild roots and ferns–thanks.”

“Well, let us know if you want to give it a shot, we’ll be happy to show you.”

“Ok, thanks. We’ll think it over and be back around this way in 6 months.”

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Curved slate knife from descendants of the first farmers: Beinan people.

Farming did take root, and eventually overtook Taiwan as it has nearly every other place on earth. My quest is to explore why the transition seems inevitable, whether it was gradual or even reversible, and finally if our most ancient foraging and early farming roots can help unlock secrets of sustainability and resiliency to todays’ massive, interlocked global food systems. A small goal, no?

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Remains of a stone village from the Beinan Middle Neolithic site, Taitung, Taiwan. Farmers stay in one place to tend crops, but non-movement drives foragers crazy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Taiwan, tea is often used in cooking. Clint and I rode the Maokong Gondola up into the mountains near Taipei two nights ago and had dinner at the Big Tea Pot.

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I wish you could smell this.

We had tea-infused rice, sweet potato greens, spicy fern leaves, and mushroom chicken soup. For the rice, tea leaves are roasted and then ground in a mortar, then added during the cooking process. For the vegetables and soup, small bags of tea are steeped in the broth. The result is a lovely tea scent and aftertaste I’ve never experienced before.

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Mushrooms, tender chicken, bamboo shoots, all in a tea-infused broth.

The view from this open air restaurant was gorgeous. A more romantic and fun dinner can hardly be imagined!

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The lights of night-time Taipei as viewed from the balcony.

Last week I took some time to explore the northeast coast with friends and family. First we hit Yehliu, a weird and wonderful collection of hoodoos created when uplifts raised sandstone of varying hardness into the zone of wave and wind erosion. So these cool features are between 23 and 5 million years old!

Nanya Rock ColumnsLast year five Chinese tourists were swept to their deaths by a rogue wave at high tide. This is not uncommon here, a statue of a fisherman who tried to rescue a student in the 1960s testifies to his bravery although both perished.

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A question marked sandstone hoodoo at Yehliu, with a tourist for scale.

Next, we visited Nanya Rock Formation, just east and south around the tip of the island. I couldn’t find any age for these rocks but they might be Pliocene sandstones, between 3 and 1 million years old.

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At the Nanya rock formations it’s easy to see odd inclusions and the stratigraphic history, especially when there is a geologist handy.

 

 

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Clint and I drinking “Gold Un Ale” Mandatory Draft, the latest offering at 23 Beer Tasting Room in Taipei. A keg-hopped golden ale that adds zest to the usual light smooth flavor!

Taiwan is home to two beer cultures: the first is the working man/woman’s beer which is a light lager similar to–but tastier than–American Coors or Bud. It is aptly called Taiwan Beer. There is a second, younger beer culture based on micros. We sampled some of these at the 23 Bar just around the corner from my faculty dorm (No. 100, Section 1, Xinhai Road, Da’an District, Taipei City).

For good beer karma, my boyfriend Clint brought several packets of Centennial Hops all the way from Brewer’s Haven, Boise, Idaho (we now call him the Hops Mule). His luggage smells delightfully hoppy now.

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My other favorite is the No. 1 Pale Ale, also keg-hopped. Fragrant hoppy happiness and a light brown nutty vibe.

 

The fusion of tribal wild vegetables and Chinese cooking techniques can have very happy results…during my interviews with Amis Tribal Elders, I purchased two sacks of wild vegetables sold by elders at booths on the main street. The restaurant down the street was happy to prepare them for us…

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Mr. Wang Seng Chang, an Amis tribal elder, holds a wild vegetable that he cultivates in a garden plot. Mr. Wang says that his family eats wild veggies every single day.

There were two main vegetables in season: one called ‘tadugum’ is a leafy green of the nightshade family, related to tomatoes and potatoes. Unlike those plants, it’s the leaves that are eaten exclusively. You can stir fry the deep black-purple leaves like kale or spinach with garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and a hit of soy…

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Tadugum, or wild nightshade, stirfried to perfection.

The second is called ‘lo kutl’ by Amis farmers. This beautiful plant, also known as bird’s nest fern, normally grows high in the forest canopy but enterprising tribal people now cultivate it in pots or gardens. Like a hungry bear, you can collect the tender ‘fiddleheads’ of the ferns as they emerge. These may be lightly stir-fried like the tadugum, or battered and flash-fried then served with fabulous sweet-tangy Taiwanese home-made catsup.

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Battered fern fiddleheads with homemade catsup. Just the thing after a long day of ethnographic fieldwork!

 

 

 

On the east coast of Taiwan, Dad and I visited Ba Xian Dong or Eight Immortals Cave–Taiwan’s best-known Paleolithic site–which was created before agriculture.

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Standing at the edge of the biggest cave: you can see the characters for Lingwa Cave to the right.

These mysterious caves in sea cliffs echo the booming of the Pacific ocean. More than 30,000 years ago the waves pounded into crevices of the cliffs, opening up caves that ancient hunter-gatherers made into temporary homes.

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Home to Taiwan’s first human inhabitants more than 20,000 years ago.

As I held a pebble chopper that was last used more than 1,000 generations ago, I felt time moving through me as I moved through time…

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Paleolithic chopping tool created by skillfully removing just a few flakes from an ocean-rounded beach pebble.

The Eight Immortals are sacred to Taoist religion and also worshipped by Buddhists. In 2014, Ba Xian Dong was a bustling series of temples built right on top of the archaeological sites. Last year the temples were closed down by the Taiwanese government to protect the sites from further damage. Although the scientist in me is glad the site is being protected, the echoing emptiness of Lingwa Cave during a winter rainstorm is haunting…the Eight Immortals watching us…

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Three years ago the thriving temple…

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The same view today. Bare concrete, wires, and haunting bits of paint are the only testament to the old temple. The latest layer of archaeology added to 20,000 years of Taiwan’s human story.