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Austronesian Navigation and Migration

Ocean-going outrigger ship, Borobudur, Java

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The maritime achievements of the Austronesians have been noted by scholars
and other observers for many centuries.  The ability of the Micronesians to 
span out over many largely desolate atolls; of the Polynesians to make
voyages over vast stretches of ocean; of the Melanesians to sail with minimal
references; and of the Malays and Indonesians to venture thousands of miles over 
open sea to Madagascar are all great accomplishments that likely preceded
similar feats by other peoples.

In most cases, the Austronesians left evidence of their journeys by means
of their languages surviving in the lands they visited and settled.  In this
webpage, we will examine evidence of other regions that the Austronesians
might have reached, but that are not commonly included as such in most research.
The evidence used will come from various fields including linguistics, genetics
and physical anthropology.

An examination of Austronesian navigation and sailing techniques and technology
will also be included.  

Evidence of Austronesian Contact beyond their Accepted Linguistic Region

Linguistic arguments on the existence of Austric influence in India and South Asia
can be found on the Austric in India Webpage at  Austronesian is a subset of the larger
proposed Austric language family.  For a radically new theory on South Asian
languages, visit the Austro-Dravidian Language Theory Webpage

A webpage on the Austric provenance of Sumerian can be found at  In both the Indic and Sumerian languages,
evidence of Austronesian influence may be direct, or through other member of the
Austric stock that absorbed some elements that also descended to the Austronesian family
at an early stage.  

The Austronesian Physical Type

Although Austronesians are a fairly heterogenous people in terms of physical appearance, 
some interesting common traits to exist widely over the group.  Many scholars claim
Austronesians are admixtures of Austroloids, a group which includes Veddoids, Australians,
Negritos and Papuans; with Mongoloids.  

Older ideas claiming Austroloids originated in the Mediterranean are now discredited.
As the "Out of Africa" theory seems to be the one best supported by the evidence, it
appears that the very old anatomically modern humans found in Asia, older than
comparable African skeletons, are very ancient migrants from the West.  The best
evidence for the Austroloid type is that it was descended from Ngandong man of Java,
(about 150,000 years ago) who originated from the older Pithecanthropes of Java 
(Cheikh Diop, Civilization or Barbarism, Lawrence Hill Books, Brooklyn, 1991, 
p. 35;  Andor Thoma, "L'origine de l'homme moderne et de ses races" in La Recherche,  
no. 55, Aug. 1975, p. 334.)

Skeletons of the Austroloid type have been found at the Kow Swanif site going
back to 8,000 B.C., and some possibly representing this type go to 20,000
to 30,000 B.C.  In Sri Lanka, skeletons of this type date back probably to about
12,000 B.C.   Thus, the earliest examples are considerably older than Mediterranean
examples and it is likely that the modern Austroloid type originated in the Southeast
Asia/Pacific region.  These Austroloids were tropically adapted people who were mostly
chaemarrhine and prognathous with prominent browridges and low skulls.  However,
considerable variation occurred among these Asian Austroloids.  

Whether the Mongoloid type developed from the Austroloid type will not be dealt
with here, but eventually these two types came together specifically in the region
of Southeast Asia.  Also present were Negroid types who differed from Austroloids
in having high skulls, frizzy hair, etc.  Some believe that the Oceanic Negroid 
types are subcategories of Austroloids, but it may also be that the reverse is true.
Although the hair of the Austroloid type is wavy or straight, it is actually very
similar to that of Oceanic Negroids (and also Africoids) in that it is thick
and coarse (as opposed to the fine, soft hair of Caucasoids).  

The Austronesian (and Austric) type that developed from the Austroloid/Mongolid/
Negrito admixture can be distinguished by such traits as:

Short face (one of the shortest of any group)
High skull
Bulging, pentagonal occiput
Prominent parietal protuberances
Medium cranial capacity
Ellipse-shaped orbit
Mild epicanthic fold ("almond-shaped eyes")
Mild alveolar prognathism (full lower lip with jaw projecting past plane of nose)
Subnasal mesognathism
Mesorrhine (medium broad nose on average)
Concave or concavo-convex nasal profile
Dull or guttered nasal sill
Sacral spot (highest percentages among all groups)

While some traits, like those listed above, help distinguish an Austronesian type,
quite a bit of variation also occurred.  For example, the "rocker jaw," of Polynesian
peoples, and the diminutive stature of the Negritos.  Generally, Austronesians tend
to have brown complexion, with dark, straight to wavy (sometimes frizzy) hair that
is coarse and thick, and dark eyes.  Occassionally, blondism occurs in infacy (as
among some tribes in Melanesia and Mindanao) or reddish-brown hair or streaking
is present.  However, this appears to be native variation rather than evidence
of Caucasoid admixture as suggested in earlier diffusionist studies.  The universal
coarse and thick nature of the hair is powerful evidence of this, since Caucasoid
contribution would result in some existence of fine, soft hair.

Studies in India have shown a great deal of common ground between the Dravidian 
type and the local Austric type.  In fact, little difference was found between
the two.  Again, a possible explanation for this commonality between the two
types that make up the bulk of the population in South Asia can be found on
the Austro-Dravidian Language Theory Webpage.

Genetic Evidence

Attempts have been made at finding genetic markers for Austronesian peoples
in recent studies.  A few good recent references are:

Melton et al, (1995) "Polynesian genetic affinites with Southeast Asian populations 
as identified by mtDNA analysis," American Journal of Human Genetics, 57:

Redd et al, (1995) "Evolutionary history of the COII/tRNA intergenic 9 base
pair deletion in human mitochondrial DNAs from the Pacific," Molecular
Biological Evolution12:604-615.

Hill AVS, Sergeantson SW (eds) (1989) The colonization of the Pacific:
a genetic trail, Oxford Univ. Press, New York.

Concerning India, the earliest studies using blood genetic markers, the researchers
tended to emphasize evidence that confirmed existing beliefs in the "Aryan" 
relationship of South Asians.  The fact that many markers, such as the A2 blood
type, p2, q, Rh negative, ALDH and other factors tended to show greater 
relationship with Asians to the East. (D. Tills, A. Kopec, R. Tills, (1983)
The distribution of human glood groups and other polymorhisms Supplement
1, Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford)

Studies of nuclear DNA, though, seemed to confirm earlier theories of a Central
Asian and otherwise Western origin of the bulk of the Indian populace ().
However, the most recent studies of mtDNA contrast sharply with the nuclear
DNA studies.  A recent work by Bamshad et al (Bamshad et al, (1996) "mtDNA
Variation in Caste Populations," Human Biology, v. 68, 1,) showed that South
Indian populations were genetically closer to Asians than Europeans.  In fact,
a very close relationship between Indians and Africans was displayed by a
neighbor-joining tree showing an African-Indian cluster in 88% of 1000 bootstrapped
trees.  Nuclear DNA studies have shown no close relationship between Africans
and Indians.  The table showing genetic distances is included below:

Table 6. Genetic Distances between Continental Populations

Group                African       Indian       Asian
Indian               0.00440       
Asian                0.00584       0.00085
European             0.658         0.00115      0.00046
(Source: Bamshad et al, p. 16)

The Asian group used in this study consisted of a mixture of East Asian and
Southeast Asian groups, and it would be interesting to find what a comparison
of Indian with specifically Austronesian and Austric peoples would produce.
The genetic distances shown above were supported by an earlier study by
Mountain et al. (Mountain et al.,(1995) "Demographic History of India and 
mtDNA-Sequence Diversity,"  American journal of human genetics,
APR 01 1995 v 56 n 4, p. 979) that showed Chinese were approximately
twice as close in terms of genetic distance to Indians than Europeans were to 
Indians.  However, the Mountain et al. study did not show the same linkage
with African populations as did that of Bamshad et al.  Clearly, more mtDNA
studies using different groups from all geographic regions are in order.

Just why the mtDNA studies showed such drastically different results from
many of the earlier nuclear DNA studies is hard to determine.  Bamshad
et al. suggested that possibly the African mtDNA in Indians might be due
to mostly female African admixture with other supposedly non-African groups.
However, any female African mixture sufficient to result in such a significant
cluster should also have resulted in considerable contribution of nuclear 
DNA, which is also passed on by females.  Of course, a thorough study using
Y-chromosomes could provide answers to this question, and such a study was
suggested by Bamshad et al.

Getting back to the Asian affinities shown by the mtDNA studies, a few non-mtDNA
studies have also shown such relationships.  For example, a study conducted
in India (Balakrishnan et al., "HLA Affinities of Iyers, a Brahmin Population of 
Tamil Nadu, South India," Human biology, AUG 01 1996 v 68 n 4, p. 523)
displayed correspondence between the Iyer Brahmins and Southeast Asian populations, 
although this was explained by Central Asian groups migrating to India through 
Southeast Asia.

An interesting article  appeared in the Oct. 1996 issue of American
Journal of Human Genetics.  It analyzes some peculiar mtDNA
polymorphisms in Northern India comparing them to samples of Caucasoids,

Specific mutations were focused on.  The Caucasoid group consisted of
Lebanese (50), Jews (52), North Africans (39), Northern Italians (22)
and U.S. Caucasoids (175).  Indian samples from the Punjab, Delhi and
Andhra Pradesh were taken.

Here is a table derived from that article minus the
standard errors and references:

Frequency of Ddel(10,394)Alul(10,397)Haplotypes in Punjab
                     ++         +-         --
             no.     (%)        (%)        (%)

Caucasoids        383     1.0        21.4        77.6

Punjabi            78     26.9       12.8        60.2
Indians (Delhi)    76     48.7        2.6        48.7
Indians (A.P.)     57     73.7        1.7        24.6
Tribals (A.P.)     30     60.0        0          40.0
East Asians       153     44.4        7.2        48.4
Siberians         412     56.3       10.0        33.7
Tibetans           54     61.1        0          38.9
Sub-Sah. African  197      1.5       88.7         9.6
Source: Passarino et al., "mtDNA Polymorphisms in Northern
India,"  _American Journal of Human Genetics_, 59:
927-934, Oct. 1996.

Interesting to note that with the possible exception of the
Punjabis, the other Indian groups (Delhi and Andhra Pradesh)
cluster more closely with the Asian groups.

Another recent article entitled, "India looks farther east for
its ancestors," _New Scientist_, 8 March 1997 (no. 2072),
examined the same possibility from the standpoint of
histocompatibility.  Here's is an excerpt from the article
as posted by Dominick Wusjastyk on the Indology list:


India looks farther east for its ancestors.

The physical appearance of the people of northern India has led historians
to assume they are more closely related to the European Caucasoid
populations that to their neighbours to the east.  But an international
group of geneticist claims that this view is wrong.

Some of the northern Indians, say the researchers, have much more in common
with Chinese and Japanese people than was previously thought.  The results
could change the way that historians view human migration into the Indian

[...] "India is really a transition zone between the Caucasoids and
Mongoloids," says Narinder Mehra, director of the department of
histocompatability and immunogenetics at the All-India Institute of Medical
Sciences in New Delhi. Mehra belongs to an international team studying the
genetics of histocompatibility in populations worldwide.

[...] The scientists concentrated on the human leucocyte antigens (HLA)
which dictate whether a person undergoing a transplant will accept or reject
a donated organ or tissue.

[...] of the 17 subtypes of a gene [...] 44 per cent of a group of 46 people
living in Delhi had the same subtype as 69 per cent of a group of northern
Chinese.  And the subtype most commonly found in European populations was
totally absent.

[Mehra's sample consisted of] Hindus with family roots in the north Indian
states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.


As already mentioned there is a great deal of evidence existing
in terms of blood genetic markers and similar polymorphisms, and both
metric and non-metric anthropological traits to support the findings from
mtDNA suggesting a substantial Asian component in India originating from
Southeast Asia, which could certainly have Austronesian connections.  The latter
conclusion is further strengthened by linguistic, archaeological and, to some
degree, historical evidence.

A new study in Genetics analyzes Y chromosome variation and
groups South Asians together with Southeast Asians due to common
paternal lineages.   Here is a selected sample constructed from
Table 1 of the article (M.F. Hammer et al., "The geographic
distribution of human Y chromosome variation" Genetics.
MAR 01 1997 v 145 n 3, 787):

YAP haplotype and DYS19 allele frequencies (n = 1500)

Population                YAP haplotype              DYS19 allele
                     ---------------------    --------------------------
                 n   1    2    3    4    5     Z    A    B    C    D   E


Saudi Arabia    22   91   0    0    5    5     0    5    55   23   18  0
UAE             20   90   0    0    5    5     0    5    65   15   15  0
Oman            11  100   0    0    0    0     0    0    36   64    0  0
Iran             5   80   0    0    0   20     0    0    20   80    0  0


Indians         39  100   0    0    0    0     0    0    23   51   21   5
SE Asians       47  100   0    0    0    0     0    2     7   55   23  13

(by group)
Vietnamese      13  100   0    0    0    0     0    8     8   46   23  15
Filipinos       10  100   0    0    0    0     0    0    10   60   10  20
Malaysians      10  100   0    0    0    0     0    0     0   70   10  20
Laotians         7  100   0    0    0    0     0    0     0   43   57   0
Indonesians      4  100   0    0    0    0     0    0     0   50   50   0
Cambodians       3  100   0    0    0    0     0    0    33   67    0   0


Koreans         27  100   0    0    0    0     0    0    26   22   41  11
S. Chinese      48  100   0    0    0    0     0    4    10   52   25   8
Taiwanese       76   99   0    1    0    0     1    4    28   38   25   4
Japanese       132   58   0   42    0    0     0    8     3   49   25  15
Tibetans        30   53   0   47    0    0     0    0    23   67   10   0


Greeks          83   75   0    0   25    0     0   22    37   27   13   1
Italians       208   86   0    1   13    0     0   14    37   31   10   8


Germans         30   93   0    0    7    0     0    7    50   30   10   3
British         43   98   0    0    2    0     0   12    63   23    2   0
S. Africans     20   95   0    0    5    0     0    5    60   15   15   5

The RAID data recovery above shows that haplotype 1C is strongly associated with
South and Southeast Asians.  If not for this haplotype, Indians
would appear to be closer to Koreans.

Using a majority-rule consensus tree, Hammer et al. formed two
primary clusters.  The relevant cluster looks thus:

      -------East Asians
 ----|        -------South Asians
|    |       |
|    |       |
|     --------
|            |
|            |
|             -------Australians
|             -----North Europeans
|            |
|            |
|   ----------
|  |         |
|  |         |
 --           -----West Asians
    ----South Europeans

The Indian sample in this study consisted of 20 individuals
from Andhra Pradesh and 19 South African Indians, who were
mostly of Gujarati and Bengali origin.

Austronesians and South America

Rebecca Cann and J.K. Lum have studied the possiblity of gene flow
between Polynesian and Amerind populations based on mtDNA findings 
(R.L. Cann and J.K. Lum, "Mitochondrial Myopia: Reply to Bonatto et
al.," (letter to the editor), Am J. Hum. Genet. 59:256-258, 1996; Cann, R.L., 
(1994) "mtDNA and Native Americans: a southern perspective," Am. J. of Hum.
Genet. 55:7-11.) and have raised the following questions:

	"Why is the B-lineage clade, a clade most common on the western
	coast of the Americas, not found in Beringia?  Why does the B-lineage
	clade have lower sequence diversity and a different mismatch distribution 
	than do the major A, C, and D clades (as well as others recently documented
	by T. Schurr and colleagues) in Amerindians?  Why are other lineages, not 
	just in the B group, found in Pacific and Amerindian populations?
	Finally, how do we account for the prehistoric distribution of the sweet 
	potato in Oceania (Yen 1974)?  [Cann and Lum, p. 258]

Dr. Rebecca Cann can be contacted regarding
her research at

Dr. Cann's work has recently been supported by other research (Leon-S, F E; Ariza-Deleon, 
A; Leon-S, M E; Ariza-C, A; Parham, P.,(1996) "Peopling the Americas," Science 
Volume 273, Number 5276, pp. 721). In this article, these interesting points are 
brought to light suggesting seaborne migration from Southeast Asia and Japan to South 
America in pre-Columbian times via the Japan Current (using the route of the 
Manila Galleons):

1. A new allele found in the Cayapa or Chachi of Ecuador displays molecular
similarity in aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency to that found in Southeast
Asia and Japan, but not in Northeast Asia.

2. HTLV-I strains from Japan similar in molecular structure to those found
in South American (including Chile, Columbia and Brazil).

3. HTLV-II present in South America and Japan but not in far eastern Siberia.

4. Similarities in major histocompatibility complex type 1 (MHC-1),
MHC type II, haplotypes and mtDNA found in Japanese, Pacific and South American
native populations but absent in far eastern Siberia. 

Austronesians and Africa

Austronesians established themselves on the island of Madagascar off the
East African coast at an ancient epoch.  Austronesian prehistorian,
Wilhelm Solheim, has suggested that the beginning of Austronesian 
occupation of Madagascar may have been underestimated.  

The existence of various Austronesian crops suggest contact with
the African mainland.  Indeed, there are various Muslim historical
sources verifying such contact during medieval times.  There is also
some evidence of gene flow between the two regions.  Of particular
interest is the existence of the Asian-specific 9-bp deletion
among Sub-Saharan Africans.  One study has tried to explain this by 
means of independent origins (Soodyall et al.,(1996) "mtDNA Control-Region 
Sequence Variation Suggests Multiple Independent Origins of an "Asian-Specific" 
9-bp Deletion in Sub-Saharan Africans,"  American journal of human genetics
MAR 01 1996 v 58 n 3, p. 595), however, this question if probably far from
settled.  Certainly, there are reasons (occupation of Madagascar, existence
of Austronesian crops on mainland, Muslim historical sources) to suspect
gene flow between the two peoples.

Austronesian Ocean Navigation

The evidence presented above gives a sketch of known and possible areas
of Austronesian contact.  Other possibilities also exist which are not 
explored here due to the research being very preliminary.  

The great expansion of Austronesian peoples that began probably at least 
8,000 to 9,000 years ago according to recent radiocarbon datings (Eusebio
Dizon, "Maguidanao prehistory: Focus on the archaeology of the anthropomorphic 
potteries at Pinol, Maitum, South Cotabato, Mindanao, Philippines," National 
Museum Papers, vol. 4,No. 1, 1993, Manila) required a sophisticated system of 
open sea navigation.  

Such navigation differed greatly from sailing along the coastline or to visible
landmarks.  Not only were sturdy blue-water vessels needed, but a system of
orientation, dead reckoning, position-fixing and detection of landfall and 
weather prediction had be developed.

Bunkminster Fuller, the developer of "Synergism" and theorist on the development
of technology, believed that a combination of population pressures and the
submergence of the Southeast Asian landmass caused the rise of nautical and
other technologies in Austronesia.  He gave examples of the circular weaves
used in Southeast Asia and the Pacific comparing them to the unstable grid
pattern weaves used in most of the rest of the world, as an example of how
the need to build stable blue-water ship designs indirectly influence other
areas of life.  Sumet Jumsai, following up on Fuller's work, compared Southeast
Asian architectural designs with ship architecture showing the same relationship
of concept (Sumet Jumsai, (1988) Naga: cultural origins in Siam and the West
Pacific, Singapore; Bunkminster Fuller, (1981) The Critical Path, New 
York). A comparison of Austronesian terms shows that this connection indeed existed 
in the Austronesian mind:

barangay-       communal unit usually smaller than village, ship; Philippines,
burunga-        clan, Arosi,
bal.u-          village, community, house; Proto-Austric (Benedict),
barau -         canoe, Efate 
fera-           village, Proto-Malaitan,
farau -         canoe, Tahiti
puruwa-         village, Faita.
poruku -        canoe, Futuna 
peuru-          village, Bilua,
parao -         canoe, Tagalog
felakoe-        village, ship; Lavukaleve,
folau -         canoe, Polynesia
halau-          ship, longhouse used for communal activities, Hawai`i.

It would be hard to find greater evidence of the aquatic/maritime culture
of the Austronesians than the culture terms given above.


The Austronesian navigator had to be, at the same time, the village astronomer
and meteorologist.   More than anything, the heavenly bodies were used for
direction-finding and for establishing course bearings.  During the day,
the Sun, or the Sun's shadow could be used to keep bearings; at night, the stars 
were used for this purpose.  Indeed, the sidereal compasses of the 
Micronesians have become well-known among those who study Austronesian 

The sidereal compass uses the rising and setting points of stars to establish
direction.  Stars always rise and set at the same latitudes regardless of one's
own latitude. Of course, as one's own latitude changes, it will seem that the
stars are rising at different latitudes, but this is not the case.  Thus,
these fixed rising and setting points can be used to establish north, south,
east and west and every direction in between.  

During the daytime, the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  However,
the Sun only rises and sets directly to the east and west respectively during
the spring and fall equinoxes.  At other times, the rising and setting points
of the Sun change latitude, and thus give slightly different bearings than
due east or due west.  Generally, Austronesian navigators checked the rising
and setting latitudes (known as declination) against the stars at sunrise
or sunset to determine the exact bearings of the Sun.   As the Sun rises to 
its meridian passage (high noon) its shadow will also give direction depending
on the Sun's position in the sky at any particular time.

During periods of bad weather, the heavenly bodies may not be visible and 
thus other means of finding direction are necessary.  During these times, the 
navigator may use the swells and currents of the ocean to keep on course.
Ocean currents tend to travel in certain directions during different 
times of the year.  According to some Austronesian lore, one can tell the
direction of currents by the stars that are in the ascendant at sunset,  or
even by whatever star was ascending at any particular time.  The stellar
compass could also be used to determine the direction of swells at a 
given time, and a corresponding swell compass can be derived.  When
weather obscures the skies, this swell compass can be used instead.  Likewise,
the navigator can pay close attention to the directions of the wind while
the sky is clear and orient this with the directions given by Sun and stars.
The resulting wind compass can be used when heavenly bodies cannot be 
discerned.  Of course, when using either the swell or wind compass, the
navigator and the other crew members must be alert of any changes in
direction that may occur.


In addition to the compasses mentioned above, the Austronesian navigator
often possessed a sort of internal compass as well.  The tremendous
orientation ability of these navigators has been recorded on a number
of occassions.  Captain Cook's crew encountered Tupaia, a Tahitian
navigator, whose knowledge of navigational lore greatly impressed
the Europeans (J.R. Forster,  (1777)Observations made during a Voyage 
round the World (in the Resolution 1771-5), London).  Though it was
highly unlikely that the dispossessed Tupaia was privy to the more
recondite knowledge on his islands, he still was able to accurately 
demonstrate to Cook's crew the position of numerous island chains
from the Marquesas to Fiji totally by memory.  The area covered is
greater than the span of the entire Atlantic Ocean and involved
numerous islands!

More than that, Tupaia was able to lead Cook to many of these islands
that were as yet unknown to Europeans.  However, the most interesting
notice regarding Tupaia regarding the art of dead reckoning occurred
during the voyage of Cook's expedition to Batavia in Java.  At various
points on the long, winding voyage that took them between broad-ranging
latitudes, Tupaia "was never at a loss to point to Taheitee, at 
whatever place he came." (Forster, 1778: 531)

The following notice from the missionary vessel Southern Cross
traveling in the late 1800's describes three Santa Cruz boys of 
whom the eldest was
	"teaching the names of various stars to his younger companions,
	and [I] was surprised at the number he knew by name.  Moreover,
	at any time of night or day, in whatsover direction we might
	happen to be steering, these boys, even the youngest of the 
	three, a lad of ten or twelve, would be able to point to 
	where his home lay;  This I have found them able to do many
	hundreds of miles to the south of the Santa Cruz group" (W.
	Coote (1882) Wanderings, South and East, London:
	Sampson Low)

One of the most noteworthy examples of orientation is given by
David Lewis (Lewis, We, the Navigators, Honolulu 1972) from
his experience with Santa Cruz navigator, Tevake.

	"Another instance [of orientation in rough weather] was
	Tevake's success in finding Tikopia and the New Hebrides
	in gale conditions.  What exactly did this entail?  He
	was nearing Taumako from the Reef Islands, though, his 
	destination not being visible in the thick weather, he
	only had his own estimate to tell him where he was, when
	the 'big wind' came down upon him.  The te puke being
	unable to stand into the gale, he ran off for Tikopia
	over 160 miles away; when it came into view he had covered 
	something over 210 miles on two angled courses without
	ever having seen land--no small achievement." (p. 147)


A system of dead reckoning used in Micronesia that has been studied
closely is etak or hatag.   Etak involves the use
of an island, reef or other marker that may not be visible to the 
navigator.  Early observers thought the etak islands might be used
as safety valves to run to in case of bad weather.  However, the etak
was actually a reference point by which the navigator calculated
distance covered on any particular bearing.  

The etak was thought of as moving past the ship, rather than vice
a versa, and as the etak passed under certain stars with each following
the other as the new bearing star.  As the etak could rarely be seen,
the relative position of the ship to the etak was ascertained by the
orientation and sense of distance covered by the navigator.  The
method by which Austronesian navigators judged distance travelled is 
still a great mystery.  Despite fairly extensive research, the writings
still betray the fact that the most important techniques used in
Austronesian navigation are still unknown.  

The technique is quite a bit more complicated than that of using
bearing stars that one sails towards directly.  In fact, the etak
stars are not truly bearing stars, but simply reference stars.
The ability of the navigator to equate distance traveled in 
a tangent to the etak island, to the angular distance between etak
stars is baffling.  Even more unfathomable, is how the navigator
is able to adjust the system and select new etak stars when driven
off course by gales and storms.  In modern navigation, this would
require complicated right-angled or spherical trigonometry solutions.


The Austronesian navigator had a number of ways of determining
position other than by means of dead reckoning, although the
latter was certainly the primary method.  Position fixing required
knowledge of longitude and latitude at any particular time. 
The technique was especially important for reorienting the ship
after being driven off course by storms.

Determining Latitude

To determine latitude, the heavens were again the primary reference.
Depending on which region involved, the techniques varied.  In some
cases, the Pole Star, Southern Cross or other polar stars were used to 
find one's latitude.  Others used the altitude of particular groups of 
stars as they crossed the meridian.  These latter stars were selected
so they assumed a certain recognizable position when they reached
the meridian line.

Another technique was to use zenith stars to determine latitude.
This is similar to the last method as zenith stars are also observed
as they cross the local meridian. However, it is the distance of 
the star from the zenith, or point directly overhead, rather than 
distance from the horizon that is used.  

Austronesian navigators were also familar with methods of 
establishing latitude by various local charateristics of the sea
and environment.  The determining factors could be very broad
including the local types of sea life, the temperature and salinity
of the water, the currents and so on. In some cases, the navigators
even lowered buckets to the sea bottom to examine the nature of 
the soil.

Determining Longitude

The methods by which Austronesians established longitude at sea is
a controversial topic.  A. D. Reche (A.D. Reche, (1927) "Die 
Dreisternavigation der Polynesier" Marine-Rundschau, vol.32, 214-19, 
266-71; also Harold Gatty, (1958) Nature is Your Guide London) 
suggested that these navigators used precise biological
clocks to determine the difference of the their home reference time
with the local star time given by zenith stars.  

Reche's and Gatty's conclusions were attacked by others (Frankel, Lewis, 
etc.) based on the great difficulty in keeping accurate time and
constantly correcting bearing.  However, the latter difficulty
is also present in the etak method.  In fact, the only difference
in difficulty between the etak method and zenith star method is the
need for the navigator to occasionally determine the change in
longitude by the difference in home reference time to local star
time.  From these occasional time checks, dead reckoning can be used
to maintain proper adjustments to bearing.

The bit question is whether Reche and Gatty's beliefs were speculation
or whether the actually witnessed or heard of this techique being used
by native navigators (Gatty, for example, was a long-time resident
of Fiji).   There may be some viability to Lewis' (1973: 119-
122) argument that the biological clock is not something that one
can check at will. However, many of us are familiar with traditional
society in that region and how certain times of the day can be "set"
so that one is aware of them quite confidently.  

Even modern humans who have come dependent on electronic and 
mechanical clocks, sometimes find themselves waking up minutes or 
seconds before the alarm rings in the morning.  In traditional society, 
even schoolchildren were often able demonstrate the angle of the Sun in 
the sky at any time without having to go outside or in cloudy weather. 
Older people were known to wake up at the exact time in the morning,
perform certain daily chores or rites at precise times, and retire
at the same time each evening without reference to any type of clock.
There are many more examples, but the point is that there are certain
times of the day that can be worked into the body's biological alarm
clock even among ordinary people, as long as the traditional pattern
of certain strict daily routines.  Such daily rituals should not
be confused with the well-known "native time" used in meetings and
appointments and this is not part of daily, repeated ritual, and also
not part of traditional custom.

If ordinary folk can do this, how about a navigator and crew who practice
faithfully duties and chores on board in almost a religious (and rhythmic)

Non-astronomical methods of determining longitude are similar to those the
non-stellar methods mentioned in the section on determining latitude


In order to reach the intended target, the navigator often used
a "screen" or expanded target to minimize the risk of
completely bypassing the true target.  Of course, use of screens
was not applicable in exploration voyages. 

In such voyages, however, many of the same techiques used in
detecting the expanded target could be used in finding landfall
on an unknown stretch of sea.  Probably the best known aid in
finding land are seabirds.  Seabirds are known to be very effective
in telling the navigator when land is relatively close by.   
Wave action is another clue, and there are some navigators who
can apparently determine the existence of islands at fairly
great distances by wave action that would not be perceptible to
most people, and even to most modern pilots.  

A more romantic method is the detection of aura reflected off clouds,
or the radiation rising off island in the midst of a cool sea.
Obviously, these methods are not well-known even to those who have
investigated Austronesian navigation.


Weather forecasting was an important part of Austronesian seafaring.

Satawal navigator Mau Piailug could tell the nature of weather to
come by the color and nature of clouds and the changes in the
surface fo the sea. (Will Kyselka, An Ocean in Mind 145).

According to Varela the Tahitians were accomplished at predicting

	"What took me most in two Indians whom I carried from
	Otahiti to Oriayatea was that every evening or night, they told me, or
	prognosticated, the weather we should experience on the following day, as
	to wind, calms, rainfall, sunshine, sea, and other points, about which they
	never turned out to be wrong: a foreknowledge worthy to be envied, for, in
	spite of all that our navigators and cosmographers have observed and
	written about the subject, they have not mastered this accomplishment
	(B.G. Corney, (ed. )(1913-19)  The Quest and Occupation of Tahiti
	by Emissaries of Spain during the Years 1772-6 (3 vols.), London,

Beaglehole wrote regarding Tahitian weather prediction:

	"The people excell much in predicting the weather, a circumstance 
	of great use to them in their short voyages from Island to Island. 
	They have many various ways of doing this but one only that I know of
	which I never heard of being practised by Europeans, that is foretelling 
	the quarter of the heavens from whence the wind shall blow by observing 
	the Milky Way, which is generally bent in an arch either one way or the 
	other: this arch they conceive as already acted upon by the wind, which 
	is the cause of its curving, and say that if the same curve continues 
	a whole night the wind predicted by it seldom fails to come some time 
	in the next day; and in this as well as their other predictions we 
	found them indeed not infallible but far more clever than Europeans."
	(J.C. Beaglehole, (1962) Endeavour Journal Vol. I, 1768-1771, 
	Sydney, p. 368)

There are many other reports of accurate weather lore from areas around
Austronesia including Hawai`i, the Gilbert Islands and the Carolines.


Investigations of Austronesian survivals of navigational lore leave 
little doubt that they possessed skills that surpassed those of Columbus 
or Magellan who could only sail by means of latitude sailing.  Austronesian
sailors, on the other hand, have demonstrated the ability to sail
angle course, and even multiple angled courses without instruments, and
over great distances.  In some cases, like that of Tevake, a two-angled
course over a few hundred miles resulted in a precise landing despite
very dense weather!

Thus, there is every reason to believe that Austronesian navigation skills
probably led them to visit many more lands than they are generally given
credit.  Some other evidence, genetic, linguistic, anthropological, etc.,
also supports such a theory.  

Austronesian Update

The following maps showing distributions of musical instruments are from:

Roberts, Helen Heffron, _Ancient Hawaiian music_ IN _Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 29_ . Honolulu, The Museum, 1926.

Notice the distribution of the instruments is mostly concentrated in near the equator and near coastal areas. All distributions include the SE Asia/Pacific island regions.

Shell trumpets
Nose Flute and Gourd Whistle
Bow and rasp
Spiral twisted horn/whistle

The Spice Trade

The spice trade played a major role in during the European colonial period. The lure of spices and precious metals drove Europe to explore new trade routes to the "East Indies" (Malay Archipelago).

The spice trade, though, actually began much earlier than this period. The sweet-smelling clove which was so valued during in colonial Europe was known much earlier to the ancient Chinese and Indians. This, despite the fact that before the modern period cloves grew only in the Moluccas Islands of Indonesia.

In ancient China it was required that people first chew cloves (gui) before speaking with the Emperor to ensure a pleasing breath. The Indians knew of cloves (lavanga) in their Ayurvedic system of medicine and used them to fasten betel leaves around areca nuts when chewing the betel quid.

But cloves have been found as early as 1,700-1,600 BCE in Terqa, Syria where a pot of cloves was found by archaeologist G. Buccelatoi . This date is very interesting because not too far away in Egypt during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (BCE 1503 to 1482), there is mention in the hieroglyphic texts of ti-sps 'cinnamon wood' being imported from the southern land of Punt.

Now cinnamon also grew only in southeastern Asia before the modern period. Cinnamon is again mentioned in the 7th century BCE Hebrew bibical texts and by Theophrastus (B.C.E.372-288).

The Hebrews claimed that cinnamon, cassia and possibly also lemon-grass were used in the holy oil of the temple proscribed by Moses (Exodus 30). This correlates somewhat to the early dates for cloves in Syria and cinnamon in Egypt.

The Hebrew word for cinnamon 'quinamom' is believed to be derived from Malay kayu manis 'sweet wood,' and the English word is ultimately derived from the Hebrew.

How did these spices arrive in Africa and the Middle East?

Archaeologists have found that the medieval cinnamon trade followed a route across the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean from Indonesia to Madagascar. The island of Madagascar has been occupied by Austronesian people since at least the start of this era. However, the late archaeologist Wilhelm Solheim thought their arrival may have been much earlier.

Solheim wondered why archaeologists in Madagascar started from the most recent finds back in time rather than the usual method of attempting to find the oldest period and working forward in time.

He had found much unstratified evidence suggesting there could have been a much earlier presence of Austronesians in this area. For example, types of Austronesian pottery dating well before the accepted arrival date have been found, but not in the pristine layers of sediment required. For example, sherds of such pottery may be found washed up on sandy beaches. Obviously the simplest explanation would be that the pottery had been unearthed locally in a flood and washed into the ocean by rivers.

Whatever the date of the Austronesian arrival, in medieval times, cinnamon landing in Madagascar would then find its way to Rhapta in present-day Somalia. From there it reached the South Arabian traders in Muza, Yemen who carried on the trade along the coasts of the Red Sea.

Now, this could be a medieval model explaining the ancient ships of Hatshepsut which sailed to the southern country of Punt to obtain cinnamon amongst other goods!

In the 3rd century ACE, the Chinese historians wrote about the sea-going vessels of the Kunlun of insular Southeast Asia. The Kunlun were described as short, wooly-haired, dark-skinned people who were expert sailors.

The Kunlun vessels were known as kunlun-po with the word po being the Kunlun word for ship. This could be cognate with Austronesian proa from Proto-Austronesian *peDaHu/*paDaHu.

Pliny the Elder (23/24-79 C.E.) wrote of how the Ethiopians bought cinnamon from their neighbors (probably to the south) who purchased it themselves from a seafaring people. These mariners:

"bring it over vast seas on rafts which have no rudders to steer them or oars to push or pull them or sails or other aids to navigation; but instead only the spirit of man and human courage. What is more, they put out to sea in winter, around the time of the winter solstice, when the east winds are blowing their hardest. These winds drive them on a straight course, and from gulf to gulf. Now cinnamon is the chief object of their journey, and they say that these merchant-sailors take almost five years before they return, and that many perish. In exchange they carry back with them glassware and bronze ware, clothing, brooches, armlets, and necklaces. And that trade depends chiefly on women's fidelity to fashion."

The ships of the Kunlun described by Chnese historian Wan Chen were much more impressive sometimes extending to 200 feet in length and standing out of the water up to 20 feet. They were said to be able to hold from 600-700 passengers and 10,000 bushels (900 tons) of cargo. Each ship could sport up to four obliquely mounted sails.

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, written in the first century ACE, describes ships from Chryse in the Malay Archipelago known as Kolan-diphonta or 'Kolan-ships'. The 'Kolan' here are probably the Kunlun of the Chinese annals.

The ships are described as large vessels made of two whole logs roped together. This sounds very much like the double canoes of Oceania. Stone represenations of such canoes have been found in Indonesia and northeastern India. Waruno Mahdi thinks these were the original models from which we get Proto-Austronesian *peDaHu/*paDaHu.

The trading voyages to Africa continued well in the Muslim period. The 12th century Arab geographer El Idrisi writes in Kitab Rujar about the inhabitants of Zabaj, a general term for Insular Southeast Asia who travel to Sofala and Zanj on the coast of sub-Saharan Africa:

"The residents of the Zabaj go to the land of Sofala and export the iron from there supplying it to all the lands of India. No iron is comparable to theirs in quality and sharpness."

"The inhabitants of Zabaj call at Zanj in both large and small ships and trade their merchandise with them, as they understand each other's language."

When the Europeans arrived in the area at the start of the Spice Trade, there were still references to trade missions from the Malay Archipelago as far as India and the Maldives, but no mention is made of trade with Africa.

The link with Madagascar and East Africa had apparently severed. The reasons are not altogether clear. The Europeans would soon learn just where all those spices were coming from and a new chapter in the spice trade would begin.

However, for thousands of years it appears that it was the navigators and sailors of Austronesia who controlled the spice.

Ancient New Britian Obsidian in Borneo dated to 4,000 B.C.

In Peter Bellwood's article, Ancient Seafarers in Archaeology, he mentions a report in the journal Science concerning anient New Britain obsidian found in northern Borneo.

Obsidian from New Britain was excavated by archaeologist Stephen Chia of Universiti Sains Malaysia. Analsyis by anthopologist Robert Tykot of the University of South Florida resulted in a date of 4,000 B.C. for the obsideian that was found at the Bukit Tengkorak site in Sabah, northern Borneo. Bellwood, himself, was sceptical of such an early date and insisted that the obsidian should not be dated earlier than 1000 B.C., although he admitted not having any details about the dating methods used.

New Evidence of Ancient Southeast Asian and Pacific Migrations to the Western Hemisphere The citation and excerpt below provide more evidence of possible Austronesian or pre-Austronesian influence in the Western Hemisphere.

From the Medline database:

 AUTHOR:       Haydenblit R
|      ADDRESS:  Department of Biological Anthropology, University of
|                Cambridge, United Kingdom.
|        TITLE:  Dental variation among four prehispanic Mexican populations.
|       SOURCE:  Am J Phys Anthropol (3T0), 1996 Jun; 100 (2): 225-46
|     LANGUAGE:  English
 ABSTRACT:       In this paper, the dental morphology of prehispanic Meso-
|                american populations is described, compared, and examined
|                within the context of New World dental variation. Twenty-
|                eight morphological dental traits were studied and compared
|                in four samples of prehispanic Mexican populations. After
|                eliminating intra- and interobserver error, the dental
|                morphological characteristics observed show evidence of
|                heterogeneity among the populations. In particular, the
|                oldest population, Tlatilco (1300-800 BC), was significantly
|                different from the other three groups, Cuicuilco (800-100
|                BC), Monte Alban (500 BC-700 AD) and Cholula (550-750 AD).
|                When the four samples were compared to other Mongoloid
|                populations, either univariately or multivariately, it was
|                observed that the Mexican groups did not follow a strict
|                Sinodont (characteristic of Northeast Asia)/Sundadont
|                (characteristic of Southeast Asia) classification (Turner
|                [1979] Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 51:619-636). From the traits
|                examined, 27% presented frequencies consistent with Sinodont
                 variation, while 73% of the traits showed similar incidence
|                to Southeast Asian groups. Multivariately, the Mexican
|                populations were found to fit an overall Sundadont
|                classification. These results indicate that there is more
|                dental morphological variation among American Indian
|                populations than previously shown.

Marta Mirazon Lahr, "Who were the First Americans," MAMMOTH TRUMPET VOL 11, 
NO. 3 (1996).

Why do I believe that the cranial data suggest that this "typical Mongoloid" 
pattern developed after the first people dispersed to the Americas? There is a 
point here about timing. Let's leave aside the Americas for a minute and think 
only in terms of the differentiation in Asia. The fossil and recent 
morphological data indicate that the development of a Mongoloid
morphology had at least two stages. An early one, in which certain features 
like coronal facial flatness and broad vaults, together with a dental complex 
defined as Sundadonty by Turner, were developed in Southeast Asia. This could 
have happened as early as 40,000 years ago, and certainly by around 20,000 
since it's present in fossils like the Minatogawa remains in Japan. People 
with this generalized morphology (which I have called "southern Mongoloids")
expanded geographically, and reached North Asia up to Japan and Beijing. 
Accordingly, early north Asian fossils, like those from Zhoukoudian Upper 
Cave, have generalized traits rather than a typical Mongoloid morphology. It 
is only much later, possibly at the beginning of the Holocene, that a "typical 
Mongoloid" morphology appears within northern Asia.

First People in the Western Hemisphere came by Boat? (From the London Times, CNN and sci.archaeology, 4-12-99)

New dating of the remains of the Arlington Springs Woman from California's Channel Islands suggests they may represent the oldest human found in the Western hemisphere.

The radiocarbon and DNA dating conducted by the Santa Barbara Museum pushed back the age of Arlington Springs Woman to about 13,000 years ago. At the time, the Channel Islands formed one single mass about 5 miles from the nearest point on the mainland. Did her people reach this region by boat rather than by foot across "Beringia?"

The new book: Eden in the East, explores an early Neolithic Austric expansion.

Geneticist and tropical paediatrician, Stephen Oppenheimer, has written a new book (1998) supporting the ideas of Sumet Jumsai and Bunkminster Fuller. The British writer has done an admirable job in compiling voluminous evidence in support of a major contribution by Austric peoples to world civilization. He personally spent many years living in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Like Jumsai and Fuller, Oppenheimer sees the rising sea levels around Sundaland as the primary cause for the proposed migrations. The book pieces together folklore from various parts of the world as evidence of knowledge of this event. Linguistic, anthropological, genetic and other arguments are used to support his theory.

Given Oppenheimer's profession it is not surprising that some of the most interesting evidence he offers comes from genetic research. He suggests that the Austric paternal line (Y chromosome) extended across North Asia into Europe and Africa, while the maternal line (mtdna 9-bp deletion) took a southern route through India.

Most compelling is the hemaglobin evidence given by the author. He notes that there are five different Southeast Asian B-thalassaemias extending into India, and one as far west as Kurdistan. One variant also occuring on the same "picture frame" is found from Vanuatu to Arabia and Turkey. An haemoglobin E variant is found from Southeast Asia to Kuwait. Oppenheimer also notes that other B-thalassaemias and haemoglobin E variants occuring on different frameworks might have a common origin hidden by gene conversion. This is possible to a lesser extent also with the larger A-thalassaemias with examples from southeast Indian tribes. The most convincing argument for this is that all these variants occur within a narrow belt along southern Eurasia from Southeast Asia to Africa. While many variants undoubtedly originate in Africa, at least half a dozen appear to have a Southeast Asian origin.

The author notes the evidence of early Austric influence on China as explained by Paul Benedict. The material here is largely linguistic in the form of numbers and certain complex words but also archaeological. The appearance of rice, which Oppenheimer explains as originating in Southeast Asia, in Eastern India is most often attributed to Austric speakers. Indeed, the Munda terms for rice and bronze/copper technology are of Mon-Khmer origin.

However, he does not go as far as to reverse the direction of Heine- Geldern's theory of bronze technology diffusion. Ban Chiang bronzes are the oldest in the world, although the datings have attracted controversy, and the area may have been the source for Old World tin. Also not mentioned is the work by Dilip Chakrabarti suggesting that Indian and Southeast Asian iron have similar origin. Although Chakrabarti sees this iron technology as originating in India others have suggested a more easterly provenance.

However, the main impetus of the book deals with a much earlier migration which Oppenheimer links strongly with the beginning of Sumerian culture. A lot of the evidence offered in this regard deals with the Sumerians own legends, but also upon similarities in Neolithic artifacts and pottery dating back to 7,500 years BP. The appearance of "Oriental-looking" female figurines is noted. The author also mentions linguistic research done in this regard, including that of the current author.

While Oppenheimer leaves himself open to attack in certain areas, his research deserves serious consideration. The similarities between Austric and Sumerian are now impossible to deny or to assign to mere coincidence. We hope this work helps stimulate further research along the same lines.

Was sensitivity of the Pineal Gland responsible for the remarkable orientation of Austronesian navigators?

The pineal gland is a cone-shaped organ located deep with the brain of humans. Among other animals, such as reptiles, the pineal gland is located near the surface of the skin, where it is light-sensitive and has been called a "third eye."

Among humans the pineal gland senses light and other energy through the retina of the eye. The pineal gland is not completely understood but it does produce all the hormones, including melatonin, that regulate cyclic time, or circadian rhythyms in humans. The gland also produces anhormome that causes us to dream while asleep.

Researchers have suggested that the natural navigation of birds and other animals may be related directly to the pineal gland. In this sense, the pineal gland allows the mind to subconciously keep track of cycles including day, lunar and even yearly cycles. By allowing the subject to sense the difference between local time (given by the Sun or stars) and home time (etched in the brain) one can sense longitudal movement. Through knowledge of where the Sun should be declination-wise at home and at a certain time of the year, as compared to where it is locally gives changes in latitude. All this information is processed by the brain allowing the subject to sense changes in geographic position.

There is quite a bit of evidence that can support this idea on a conceptual level at least. Plants and animals, when moved to different locations, continue to operate on "home time" for long periods after displacement. However, their pineal glands must sense the change in "light time" due to the differences in the rising and setting of the Sun. For most humans, these changes cannot be sensed, although they do effect us through conditions like jet lag.

However, what if the pineal gland is "activated" or "sensitized" in a way that is uncommon. The existence of the pineal gland was known to the ancients in many parts of the world. The Chinese even drew diagrams showing the exact position and shape of the organ. The "third eye" was known as an extra sensory organ that could only be "opened" through arcane methods.

Research has shown that in modern times, the pineal gland is often calcified reducing its ability to produce melatonin and other cyclic hormones. There does seem to be a higher rate of calcification among people with less melanin, but atrophy from disuse seems the strongest causative factor.

Were the Austronesians aware of the pineal gland and did they know how to "open" its sensitivity? Why did auras of islands play an important role in their navigation as recorded in Western journals? Certainly, there seems to be few other plausible explanations.

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