A Present-Day Story: Covering the Site with Soil Again to Retain It for Those Seeking Their Roots
Reporters: Huang Rufei and Xiao Zhenping
In drizzling rain accompanied by sea breeze, a few statues symbolizing the Austronesian language family in the Austronesian Language Family Theme Park located near the Roundabout Road in Dongshan County, Zhangzhou seem to be gazing at the Pacific, pondering over or waiting for something.
In the earlier years, it was widely accepted in the academic community that the Austronesian language family originated from “Taiwan, Penghu Islands and Southeast Coast of Chinese Mainland”. Convincing evidence has been found in Taiwan, yet there used to be a lack of such evidence for its origins along the southeast coast of Fujian Province.
How is Dongshan Island, famous for its Wind Rock scenic spot (Fengdongshi Scenic Area), related to the Austronesian language family spoken by those living on islands of the Southern Pacific thousands of miles away?
The Damaoshan Site was made known to archaeologists in 1986. It was discovered by residents of Damao Village, Chencheng Town, Dongshan County at the foot of the Damaoshan Hill. The villagers found thick layers of seashells beneath the soil on the hill when they were digging for seashells, which could be used as construction materials after burning. An unintentional excavation by villagers drew the attention of people to the site.
The discovery of the Damaoshan site aroused the interest of Professor Jiao Tianlong, then Director of the Asian Department of Denver Art Museum, across the Pacific. From November to December 2002 and from May to July 2003, Professor Jiao Tianlong, together with Professor Barry Rolett, Professor Nakenra Steele and Professor Powell Carlos of the University of Hawai’i, Research Fellow Lin Gongwu and Research Fellow Fan Xuechun of Fujian Museum, Research Fellow Chen Liqun of Dongshan County Museum, and many archaeologists from Taiwan, conducted multiple excavations of the Damaoshan site. The excavations were themed “Navigation Technology – Exchanges between Both Sides of the Taiwan Strait in the Neolithic Age and Origins of the Austronesian Language Family”.
“Though the top layer of the cultural deposits at the Damaoshan site has been subject to severe damage due to human activities, the second and third layers appear to be connate deposits judging from the excavation processes and the conditions of unearthed relics, with no sign of disturbance from subsequent human activities,” said Professor Jiao Tianlong, standing excitedly beside the excavated site. The excavations reveal that the type of civilization at the Damaoshan site is very much homogeneous, as the relics are from the same period in the Neolithic age.
The scholars were astounded by the unearthed stone artifacts and earthenware. Professor Rolett of the University of Hawai’i said that the stone artifacts here presented a striking resemblance to those used by prehistoric Polynesians of the Austronesian language family in terms of forms and crafting techniques.
An analysis of the compositions reveals that the raw materials for most stone adzes (primitive shipbuilding tools) unearthed here came from Penghu Islands. That suggests that primitive humans who used to live here were capable of sailing across the Taiwan Strait and going to and fro between the two sides. As early as 6,000 years ago, dugout canoes had already been important tools of ancestors of the Austronesian language family living along the southeast coast of Fujian for offshore fishing and transportation, and the important means of navigation for exchanges between residents on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Judging from the archaeological excavations of the Damaoshan site, the Austronesian language family has innumerable ties with Dongshan Island. “The peoples of the Austronesian language family have been seeking their roots, eager to know where their ancestors came from,” said Xu Ling, Head of Dongshan County Museum. The descendants of the Austronesian language family some 16 thousand nautical miles away have tried to decipher how were their ancestors able to cross the ocean.
On November 13, 2010, six descendants of the Austronesian language family (from French Polynesia in central south Pacific) arrived at Dongshan Island on a replica of an ancient dugout canoe. They traced the migration routes of their ancestors on the Pacific relying on monsoons and ocean currents, and finally arrived in China after an odyssey of over four months.
Damaoshan finally greeted those seeking their roots here. The site, with cultural deposits 20 to 55 cm thick, has been covered by soil again. The local government has pledged to retain it for further archaeological excavations in the future.