A 6000-year-old seafaring base once again harbors global ambitions

2020-05-18 17:33:26

(Fujian Daily: Wang Fengshan, Lin Xia, Zhang Zhehao)

During the 1958 Fujian cultural relics census, archaeologists discovered the Keqiutou site in Nanlong Village, Pingtan County and unveiled one tiny aspect of its mysteries. Unfortunately, at the time, the public awareness of protecting cultural relics was weak, and detailed archaeological excavations were not carried out. Also, local residents burnt shells excavated from the site to produce limewash, causing considerable damage to the site.

In the 1980s, the Fujian Museum dispatched an archaeological team to carry out the first large-scale archaeological excavation of the Keqiutou site. The excavations were fruitful, uncovering 21 shell middens and one tomb that collectively yielded more than 200 artifacts, including stone tools, bone artifacts, jade ware, shell ornaments and pottery. Carbon-14 dating showed that the Keqiutou site was older than the Tanshishan site.

 In 2004, the Fujian Museum, together with the Bishop Museum (Hawaii) and the Anthropology Department of the University of Hawaii, launched a research project on Austronesian-speaking peoples and prehistoric seafaring techniques in southeastern China, which saw the second archaeological excavation of the Keqiutou site. This yielded several indications showing that early human settlers had made their homes in Pingtan as early as 6000 years ago, where they fished, collected shells, hunted and infused the “joys of life” into their handicraft. Primitive settlements formed over time, eventually igniting the dawn of civilization.

In July 2010, a “root seeking trip” brought international attention to Pingtan County. At that time, six descendants of the early Austronesian peoples (from French Polynesia) set off from Tahiti, in the South Pacific Ocean, for Fujian in a faux antique wooden canoe in search of their ancestral roots. After sailing for 16,000 nautical miles, they reached the Keqiutou site.

The four-month journey proved that it was possible to canoe from China to the South Pacific islands. Many scholars believe that it was highly likely that the early Austronesians set off from the southeast coast of Fujian Province and thereafter moved to the Pacific islands through the island of Taiwan. Archaeological imprints of the culture and life of the forebears of the Austronesian-speaking peoples can be found throughout the prehistoric sites discovered in Pingtan, providing further evidence to the academic proposition that “Pingtan is a key region for studying the origins of the Austronesian-speaking peoples”.

In recent years, archaeological finds such as the Donghuaqiu and Guishan sites have emerged one after another. At present, there are 27 prehistoric sites in Pingtan, which span from the Paleolithic Age to China’s Shang and Zhou dynasties. Accordingly, the International Austronesian Archaeological Research Base was established in November 2017, the first international research institution in China to focus on Austronesian archaeology. The research base aims to explore cross-strait ancestral and  cultural links as well as the historical roots of the Austronesian-speaking peoples, and expand Fujian’s influence in Austronesian-speaking countries and regions.

The Pingtan Comprehensive Experimental Zone has also begun construction work on an archaeological park in the Keqiutou site. “The overall project is divided into 6 general functional zones: the public services and archaeological experiential zone, the core archaeological exhibition zone, the Austronesian international cultural exchange zone, the Austronesian folk culture villages, the local culture exhibition zone and a plot of land reserved for future development,” said Hu Yongping, project manager at the archaeological park. The International Austronesian Archaeological Research Base, located in the international cultural exchange zone, is the “centerpiece” of the archaeological park.

The first “Pingtan Prehistoric Culture and Pacific Archaeology Forum” will be held in Pingtan County this June. In the coming years, subsequent forums will be held on an annual basis. These forums will be open to scholars from Chinese mainland, Taiwan and foreign countries, making the Keqiutou site cluster the first international archaeological park with an Austronesian cultural theme.

“Based on the evidence available, we know that the Keqiutou site was most likely once home to the progenitors of the Austronesian-speaking peoples. The discovery and excavation of the site, along with subsequent research efforts, provide archaeological evidence for further research into the migration routes of the Austronesian-speaking peoples,” said Zhang Wenjie, Deputy Director of the Department of History at Xiamen University. It is entirely conceivable that early Keqiutou settlers once stood here, gazing in awe at the vast expense of the sea, much akin to the global ambitions of today’s Pingtan international tourist island.