Archives for category: archaeology

I recently visited a wonderful blog called ‘Leveling the Field’ regarding evolving and impro

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Historic village of the Paiwan Tribe in southern Taiwan, which has been documented by Dr. Maa-Ling Chen at National Taiwan University and her field school students.

ving participation of women in the science of archaeology. The link to a short entry on my own ethnoarchaeology is here:

via Hungry Lightning

Women archaeologists in Taiwan are working on the frontiers of prehistoric understanding at National Taiwan University, the NTU Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of Prehistory, and the National Museum of Sciences to name a few. My “hat is off” to the scholarly excellence and pioneering spirit of Taiwan’s women archaeologists!

 

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“Guma” or ‘father’s elder sister’, a Paiwan elder of noble lineage, at 87 remembers Japanese rule and traditional millet cultivation. “I never knew envy”, she says.

Part of being an anthropologist who studies ‘the long view’ is interviewing people — most of them older than oneself. I am no longer a young woman, but feel humble and deferential in front of these folks.

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The Paiwan elder lady to the right chews betel nut, a mild stimulant with more than 3,500 years of history on Taiwan. Her niece to the left in profile looks Polynesian to me: and we know Polynesians are linked linguistically and genetically to Taiwan’s tribal people.

From Amis, Atayal, and Paiwan tribal communities, my indigenous interviewees range in age from 50 to 87 years old.

Most of them have lived through famine, wars, and the loss of their culture and language. One Amis lady, Zhong Mama, told us sadly that her two sons and daughter are already dead. And yet they share their knowledge with me, smile, offer me food and rice wine, dress me in their ritual clothes, even scratch my back when I can’t reach a mosquito bite.

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An Amis elder with the skull of a large Formosan boar that her husband caught with a snare.

When Dad is with me (he is 81), the old folks relax visibly. The grannies flirt a little, try to get him to speak Japanese with them (you have to be at least 80 now to have been in school during the Japanese colonial period, which ended with WWII in 1945).

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Dad asking an Amis elder about cultivating ferns in the forest.

My goal: to get old enough to share knowledge and show kindness to a young and curious person!

 

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Ancient Paiwan village of Cacevakan. We were lucky to arrive after caretakers removed some vegetation.

Two days ago, after a very sweaty steep hike my two colleagues and I reached an amazing stone village sitting quietly in the deep forest of Taiwan’s southernmost mountains. Two eagles soared above us, monkeys clucked their warning calls, and a tiny fanged deer barked in the shadows.

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A female Formosan macaque is keeping me in sight while her youngster escapes into the canopy.

This village was last lived in maybe 500 years ago by the ancestors of the Paiwan people, a mountain tribe with great expertise in ancient traditional cultivation of seed crops. Unlike my Amis friends in the east, the stone villages of Paiwan ancestors were so high in the mountains they rarely saw the sea. Paiwan society is made up of commoners and noble families, who ruled by the favor of the gods and were responsible for caring for the least fortunate in their villages. Americans could learn from them.

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To orient you: this map shows Amis territory, light green in the lower right, and Paiwan territory, pinkish purple in the south. The map is in the National Taiwan University Anthropology Museum in Taipei.

My anthropology colleagues are amazing scholars who have generously shared their time and expertise about Taiwanese cultures ancient and modern. I am so lucky to know them! In the next installment: tribal super food.

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My two colleagues from National Taiwan University: Dr. Sumei Lo, left, is a cultural anthropologist who works with the Amis people and is learning more about the Paiwan people. Dr. Maaling Chen, right, is an archaeologist who studies ancient stone house settlements. Maaling is carrying a stick for the ‘hundred pacer’ snakes in the area, allegedly so poisonous you die after taking 100 steps! They are sacred to the Paiwan people, luckily we didn’t encounter any.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Along the Marongarong River are several archaeological sites; hard to spot in the jungley growth, they are haunting. I don’t know how old they are.

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Stone wall and corner, age and function unknown, along the river at Fafokod. Poisonous snakes kept me from bushwhacking off trail to investigate.

While at the pig feast honoring Amis soldiers of the second World War, I munched and sipped next to two young women. They looked like 20-somethings everywhere–fresh-faced, wearing faded plaid shirts and jeans. But these girls were special: members of the Amis tribe, both had lovely designs henna’ed onto their arms.

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Beautifully wrought henna design depicting Amis tribal archaeological site.

One looked just like an archaeological site in the jungle reminiscent of the one I had seen just north of there … The girls told me they take care of several sites like this, clearing the undergrowth and stabilizing the stonework. They do it on their own time, proud of their archaeological heritage. I was bowled over!

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Three cultural heritage stewards.

In the small Amis tribal gardens and fields, between the rows of familiar crops is a riot of mysterious edible wild plants and native domesticates lovely to behold. This is a uniquely tribal approach to farming.

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Mr. Gao’s field. Wild greens grow between the crops, and when added to soups or lightly fried with garlic and salt are a delicious part of a typical Amis dinner.

The wild plants offer shade, keep soil moist, and some fix nitrogen. The pinkish red Taiwanese quinoa, above, was domesticated by tribes thousands of years ago and exists only on the island.

Common wild veggie dishes this time of year are dadugum and bird’s nest fern. The leaves of the former, and the baby fiddleheads of the latter, are coated in a light egg batter and deep fried, then dipped in a powdered mixture of salt and hot pepper (do NOT breathe this)!

Dadugum leaves taste like young dandelions: tangy with a light peppery after-taste. The fern fiddleheads are wonderfully succulent, like baby zucchini but a little sweeter. Our ancestors enjoyed lots of wild veggies too.  Let’s re-discover wild vegetables in our own gardens and farms!