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Study: Modern-day southern Chinese, SE Asians, from Yunnan

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The world of anthropology is experiencing some tumultuous upheavals these days. First, a trove of ancient bones uncovered in South Africa threatened to rewrite human evolution, and now a Chinese academic believes his research shows the modern day residents of southern China, most of Southeast Asia and eastern India are descended from a common patriarchal figure who once lived in what is today Yunnan province.

Professor Su Bing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming Institute of Zoology, had his findings published earlier this month in the journal Scientific Reports. The article, which posits a "backward" migration west and south out of Yunnan, is entitled Y-chromosome diversity suggests southern origin and Paleolithic backwave migration of Austro-Asiatic speakers from eastern Asia to the Indian subcontinent.

Several contending theories exist on who the the progenitors of Southeast Asian, eastern Indian and Chinese people were. One of the most commonly accepted versions focuses on a migration of ancient humans out of India roughly 40,000 years ago. This is not fully correct, says Su.

Working with an interdisciplinary group of scientists, Su combined linguistic and genetic research to reach his conclusions. Assessing regions where people still speak the Austro-Asiatic, or Daic family of languages, Su collected Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA samples. He than compared these to already existing research, focusing on mutations of a unique gene — O2a1-M95 — located on the Y-chromosome.

He now believes southern China and Southeast Asia were initially populated by people out of Africa — not India — somewhere around 40,000 years ago. His research points to a dominant group of humans emerging from present-day Yunnan around 15,000 years ago and essentially recolonizing these same areas, as well as eastern India.

Research of the type conducted by Su maps mutations in Y-chromosomes and uses them as date signposts. Su believed that by tracking mutations only in the male line, he could roughly trace where people moved, telling South China Morning Post, "The male migrants mingled with local women whenever they stopped. When they moved on again, they did not take the women with them."

Su concedes he cannot explain why such a migration happened, although conflict and domination would be logical explanations. "The biggest limit of genetic analysis is that it may tell you what happened, where, when and even [to] whom, but not why...The possibility of war cannot be ruled out," he said.

Challenges to established anthropological principles are often met with stringent resistance and withering critique. Professor Su may expect to experience the same, as his research does not specifically address whether ancient migrants out of Africa circumvented India before arriving in southern China. For now, however, his findings shine a new light on the little-understood origins of ancient Yunnanese people.

Image: Discover Magazine

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Very interesting article, but the term 'Daic family' is misleading for discussing Austroasiatic.

Tai-Kadai is the language family which consists of languages spoken by several groups in this region including the Thai, Lao, Zhuang, Dai/Shan, and Shui among others.

Austroasiatic is the language family which consists of the languages spoken by the Vietnamese, Khmer, Wa, Mon and various other groups in SE Asia.

Some scholars propose that Tai-Kadai and Austroasiatic share a common ancestor language (Austric), but this is not commonly accepted. As I understand the research discussed in this article (not so thoroughly, I have to admit), this genetic work provides support that these peoples share common genetic ancestry.

I believe it's hard to interpret mtDNA evidence without being an expert... there are a lot of Chinese mtDNA studies in the Yungui Plateau area.

Other studies I have read show things like the pre-modern peoples of the Yangtse delta (Shanghai) region came up the coast from Southeast Asia on boats.

Then of course we have the development of long-distance, multihull sailing vessels in the islands (some even attribute this to prehistoric Vietnam), which resulted in undeniable migration of one linguistic group (Austronesians) as far west as Madagascar and as far east as Easter Island and (by a recent article published in the prestigious journal Nature) South America ... all this allegedly from Taiwan.

See en.wikipedia.org/[...] for some background there... "some Amazonian Native Americans descend partly from a Native American founding population that carried ancestry more closely related to indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andaman Islanders than to any present-day Eurasians or Native Americans."

The main point is, there's evidence of all sorts of things, but a coherent picture is far from agreed upon, and the picture is changing.

Perhaps it would be fair to say that what we really know about ancient Yunnan, other than its extreme diversity and ancient peopling since neolithic times, is that it was a melting pot important in the initial dispersal (by both prehistoric migration and trade) of critical technologies such as intensive rice agriculture across a broad swathe of Asia, and that this importance is not widely known in either academia or public consciousness, despite the geographic/topographic sense this makes, the continued discoveries of ancient settled agricultural sites (Jianchuan), etc.

We are only beginning to learn about our own ignorance! :)

Good post Voltair.
We must consider the technology of metals being traded from Yunnan. We have an extensive example of bronze age artifacts as proof Yunnan was important in creating bronze during the bronze age and assuming much earlier.

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