How centuries of flooding turned the ancient Chinese into seafarers

About 9,000 years ago, the Fuzhou Basin in southeastern China fell victim to rising sea levels, pushing underwater the marshy lands needed for rice farming. The marooned people there became seafarers, which eventually led to the colonization of Taiwan.

The long-term flooding of the Fuzhou Basin completely changed the topography of the region, turning what are today hilltops into solitary islands not more than a mile across. With rice paddies no longer an option, the ancient inhabitants were forced to find a new way to survive, and they made the most of their sudden influx of water. That's the idea put forward by University of Hawaii archaeologist Barry Rolett, who argues it was this shift to a nautical lifestyle that ultimately made possible the settlement of Taiwan.

Rolett says the area's inhabitants probably built outposts on the newly created islands and began working on their nautical skills. They would have started small, building canoes and bamboo rafts strictly for fishing and the gathering of other aquatic food just off shore. But over time, the maritime culture would have developed to the point that far longer journeys became possible, culminating in the 80-mile trek to Taiwan, and this might well have changed the course of human history.

Linguistic studies suggest ancient Taiwan was the jumping off point for the vast majority of cultures that now populate the Pacific, including the Polynesians whose seafaring culture extended all the way to Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island, and perhaps even South America. The basics of the maritime technology that made the settlement of the Pacific Ocean possible might well have originated in the flooded Fuzhou Basin thousands of years ago.

Via Quaternary Science Reviews. For more on Rolett's archaeological evidence, check out Science News. Image via.