Austronesian Migrations and Developments in Micronesia

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    When considering prehistoric Austronesian settlement of Remote Oceania, the region of Micronesia has posed some difficult problems. According to historical and ethnographic knowledge, the people of Micronesia sustained multiple long-distance contacts. In these perspectives, ancient cultural origins are complicated and unclear, and the separate cultural groups appear tightly inter-connected. According to archaeological evidence and historical linguistic studies, however, the different groups of Micronesia have distinctive cultural histories. Across these hundreds of very small islands, at least five different colonizing migration episodes can be discerned, beginning 3500 years ago and continuing into the last 1000 years. These earliest migration routes later were over-written by newer traditions of long-distance inter-island contacts and networks. This summary of Micronesian archaeology clarifies the chronology of Austronesian migrations and developments. The results resolve some of the complications and frustrations of Micronesian culture history within a larger Asia-Pacific perspective. Micronesia consists of hundreds of islands in the northwest Pacific. Most of these islands are tiny coral atolls and other small islands, but a few are larger or taller masses. The Micronesian islanders have adapted to their environment of many small islands, spread over a broad region. Within Micronesia today, different cultural groups live with their own traditions in the numerous separate areas, but they also share traditions of long-term contact and long-distance mobility. In a modern context, Micronesia is known for traditions of long-distance voyaging and inter-island contacts. These interconnecting traditions have overlain the ancient records of first settlement of the islands. This review is based mainly on archaeological evidence, with important input from historical linguistics. The goal is to trace the major events of settlement in the different islands of Micronesia. For this goal, language histories offer important clues, but archaeology provides the best material evidence in association with absolute dating. According to current evidence, the peopling of Micronesia took place over several thousands of years. The first colonizing event occurred in the Mariana Islands about 3500 years ago, from a source in Island Southeast Asia. The second event was slightly later, about 3000 years ago in Palau, from a different source in Island Southeast Asia. The third was in Yap, evident by 2000 years ago but perhaps earlier, coming probably from Island Melanesia. The fourth was also about 2000 years ago and continuing over 100.200 years throughout most of central and eastern Micronesia, and these populations came probably from Island Melanesia or perhaps parts of Polynesia. The fifth migration settlement in Micronesia was an unusual case within the last 1000 years, when Polynesian communities moved from east to west and settled in the few remaining uninhabited or under-utilized spaces of Micronesia. In addition to the colonizing settlements, people later were involved in several interactions with other communities. As a result, networks of communication, trade, and other partnerships characterized much of the cultural history of Micronesia. Many people were mobile across this broad region. The networking created long-term inter-communications and exchange of culture. These processes were important in the development of cultural expression and identity, but they were significantly different from the events of colonizing migrations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)25-52
    JournalJournal of Austronesian Studies
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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