Ancient Crops Reveal Madagascar Colonization

Madagascar was the home of an ancient civilization that most probably came from other nearby islands. Scientists tried to find more information on the population living on the island thousands of years ago and started with an analysis of rice grains and mung beans.

Previous genetic studies hinted that Madagascar’s inhabitants were Polynesians and Malaysians, people coming from the Oceanic Islands. Other proofs were provided by linguists, which suggested that people speaking with similar Austronesian language may have colonized the island.

This recent study involved the analysis of ancient crops coming from 18 archaeological sites from Africa, Madagascar and Comoros islands. Researchers isolated 2,443 remnants which they tested in order to find out how old they were.

“What was amazing to us was the stark contrast that emerged between the crops on the Eastern African coast versus those on Madagascar and the more we looked, the starker the contrast became,” said Alison Crowther, lead researcher of the study.”

It seems that crops as pearl millet, baobab and sorghum dominated on the east of Africa and the nearest islands. The existence of this type of farming went along for several centuries, as people were traveling through the continent.

In Madagascar, the crops were more specific to the Asian traditions, with fields of mung bean, Asian rice, and cotton. The African agricultural plants on the island were very scarce.

The findings show that people from the southeastern Asia brought their crops to Madagascar; they initiated agriculture and used the resulting goods to survive on the island.

The same study revealed that the situation was similar in Comoros islands. The Asian type of cultivation was much more spread than the African one.

The theory of Madagascar being inhabited by Austronesians is not new, as this ancient population also left archaeological construction on the island. However, this particular study shows that the influence of Polynesians and Malaysians extended to a much larger area.

Scientists stress the fact that only the Vikings and the Polynesians have been known to have launched so massive migrations at sea before the colonial era. The evidence from this recent study also shows that the ancient people from the tropics did not live in isolated communities.

This early colonization suggests that the ancient world was very dynamic. Their practices and explorations were as bold as the ones in more recent times, even without having the same technological advantages.

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Published: May 31, 2016
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