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A 6,000-year-old skull confirms the legend of an ancient tribe in Taiwan, the 'Negritos'


A woman’s skull found in a cave has revealed that ‘short, dark-skinned people’ lived on the island more than 6,000 years ago, before the indigenous tribes . The discovery takes us back to an old Taiwanese legend that told of small, dark-skinned people who lived in remote mountains. But suddenly they disappeared. Until now , lack of evidence had shrouded this group in mystery for several hundred years.

In new research by an international team of scientists (from Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam) and published in the journal World Archaeology, DNA analysis of this woman’s skull shows that it is close to the African samples, and the skull features resemble those of the Negritos of the Philippines and South Africa, who are well known for their short stature and small body size.


From fables and legends to real life

According to archaeologists, the 6,000-year-old skull and femur bones found belonged to the “negritos,” an ethnic group that still exists in the Philippines, the Malay Peninsula and the Andaman Islands.

“Before our work, some people were aware of the legends of the ‘little blacks’ in eastern Taiwan who supposedly lived there a long time ago, but the stories were unclear and generally considered a mystery,” explained Hung Hsiao-chun, a researcher major. fellow in Archeology and Natural History at the Australian National University and author of the study, told the South China Morning Post.

The population of the island of Taiwan today is predominantly ethnic Han Chinese , but the ancient history of the island is slowly coming to light.

Weaving the family tree

The human family tree still has many missing links. The presence of stone tools, dated 30,000 years ago, showed that the stories of the Austronesians were not just the equivalent of European myths of fairies or goblins. However, we knew nothing about these early inhabitants. The discovery of a female skull and partial skeleton at the Xiaoma Caves on Taiwan’s east coast turns the story of human evolution on its head. One more time.

“The cranial morphometric study of human skeletal remains unearthed from the Xiaoma caves in eastern Taiwan, for the first time, validates the prior existence of small-statured hunter-gatherers 6,000 years ago in the pre-ceramic phase ,” reads the report. study.

The newly discovered bones may help us shed some light on what really happened. DNA testing of the bones revealed that the remains are closely related to African samples of roughly the same age. The shape and size of the bones are similar to those of the Negritos, a people who lived in parts of what is now South Africa and the Philippines . Everything fits with the current discovery.

The skull and femur belonged to the same person (identified as a young woman), who was around 1.3 meters tall . The archaeologists determined the sex through the skull, since the pelvis was not available for analysis.

“The individual was determined to be female due to the gracile skull, small mastoid processes, smooth occipital muscle attachment area, elevated perpendicular frontal bone, and smooth contour of the mandibular base,” according to the study. The Negrito population is believed to be linked to the ‘first layer’ of anatomically modern humans who show a closer resemblance to Africans than to present-day Eurasians who represent the ‘second layer’.


And how did they become extinct?

The researchers believe that the Negritos probably became extinct because their hunter-gatherer lifestyle did not mix well with sedentary agricultural societies. They were probably driven out of their habitat and struggled to adapt to this new way of life, but eventually disappeared.

Reference: Hsiao-chun Hung et al, Blacks in Taiwan and the wider prehistory of Southeast Asia: new discovery from the Xiaoma Caves, World Archeology (2022). DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2022.2121315

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