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Ocean voyage by early ancestors to be re-attempted by Japanese researchers

Researchers said Tuesday they will try to reproduce a voyage made 30,000 years ago by settlers from Taiwan to reach what is now Okinawa.

Ocean voyage by early ancestors to be re-attempted by Japanese researchers
Researchers row a boat made of grass near the island of Yonaguni, 
Okinawa Prefecture, in 2014 [Credit: National Museum of Nature 
and Science/Kyodo]
The team led by Yosuke Kaifu, head of the Division of Human Evolution at the National Museum of Nature and Science, believes early ancestors of Japanese people traveled by ship or raft from Taiwan to the Sakishima island chain in Okinawa Prefecture.

The team includes researchers from a several other institutes, including the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum, Nanzan University and the University of Tokyo.

The researchers plan to build either a ship made of bundled grass or a bamboo raft and to sail it from the island of Yonaguni to the island of Iriomote, both in Okinawa, in July this year. They will attempt the crossing from Taiwan to Yonaguni in July 2017.

The project will cost around ¥50 million, of which ¥20 million needed for the voyage this summer will be met by donations from the public. The team will solicit contributions on the Internet until April 12. If the sum collected misses the target, the donations will be returned.

It will be the first time for a Japanese national museum to raise money in a crowd funding campaign.

“We hope to solve riddles about the origin of Japanese people,” Kaifu told a news conference. “We wonder whether they could see Yonaguni from Taiwan and whether they were affected by the Black Current. What they did was very challenging.”

The Black Current, or Japan Current, is a movement of water that could either aid or challenge unpowered ocean travel.

Homo sapiens appeared in Africa some 200,000 years ago and gradually displaced other early humans worldwide.

The Taiwan migration was one of three arms of human colonization of Japan.

Modern man from the Eurasian continent reached Kyushu via the Korean Peninsula and the Tsushima Strait some 38,000 years ago, according to Kaifu. Later, other groups are believed to have moved from Taiwan to Okinawa, and from Sakhalin to Hokkaido.

Paleolithic remains in Okinawa indicate that Japanese ancestors were living there by about 30,000 years ago. Human bone fossil and DNA studies show that the group in Okinawa is likely to have traveled from Taiwan, the team said.

Briefings about the project will take place at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo on Thursday and Sunday, and at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, on Feb. 21.

Potential donors can learn about how to contribute funds here (in Japanese).

Source: The Japan Times [February 12, 2016]

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