Taiwan’s prehistoric culture
(中央研究院歷史語言研究所研究員／Research Fellow at the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica）
2001-03-19 One of the most important parts of anarchaeologist’s work is toreconstruct the life of prehistoricpeoples
Although for a long time now, the people ofTaiwan have had a biased understanding of thehistory of this land, it has not been possibleto completely eliminate the fact of activitiesin Taiwan by people in the past. Archaeologiststell us that Taiwan obviously has far longerthan just 400 years of history, because therewere originally long-established prehistoricpeoples, and research in recent years hasextended the time-span of human activity backeven further to the Pleistocene ice age, thatis, the early stages of prehistory. Over acentury of scientific archaeological work inTaiwan, starting in the early days of theJapanese occupation, has uncovered a largenumber of archaeological sites preserved in thestrata of the earth, and through archaeologicalinvestigation, excavation and research, we haverecorded the facts of past human existence, andlaid the groundwork for the course ofprehistoric human cultural development. Sincethe 1980s, several large-scale archaeologicaldiscoveries and excavations have made us re-thinkthe process and transition of the activities ofTaiwan’s early inhabitants, and the verydefinition of “Taiwanese people.” This week,Taiwan News has invited Yi-chang Liu, researchfellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Historyand Philology, to tell us about Taiwan’sprehistoric culture.
Almost 2,000 sites already recorded
Taiwan’s first prehistoric site was discovered in1896, and since the uncovering of the Chihshanyensite, archaeologists have recorded almost 2000different sites. The geographical range coveredincludes nearly all of the island of Taiwan, andthe surrounding islands, including the Penghu(Pescadores) group of islands, Green Island,Orchid Island and Hsiao Liuchiu. Vertically,distribution ranges from coastal plains a fewmeters above sea-level to mountains at a height ofabout 2,950 meters, which is higher than thehighest Aboriginal villages in ethnographic record.Long-term research work on these sites has alreadypreliminarily established a framework forprehistoric cultural development and itsevolutionary system, and can explain therelationship between part of prehistoric cultureand contemporary Aboriginal tribes.
Many different archaeological culture subsections
The culture left behind by prehistoric people inTaiwan can be divided into many differentarchaeological cultural subsections accordingto how early or late they are on thetime-scale, geographical distribution anddifferences in cultural features. Since wedon’t know the names of the groups of peoplewho had these cultures, archaeologists name themafter the sites which represent their culture.From earliest to latest, we can make theseapproximate divisions: 1. Paleolithic Period,including Changpin Culture, Wanghsing Culture,Tsuo Chen Man 2. Early Neolithic Period,represented by Tapenkeng Culture 3. Mid NeolithicPeriod, represented by Hsuntangpu Culture, theNiumatou Culture, the Niuchoutzu Culture, the”Eastern Rope-Pattern Terracotta Culture” 4.Late Neolithic Period, represented by ChihshanyenCulture, Yuanshan Culture, Wanshan Culture,Yingpu Culture, Tamalin Culture, Tahu Culture,Fengpitou Culture, Peinan Culture, HuakangshanCulture and Chilin Culture 5. The age of metaland metal-and-stone tools: represented by ShihSan Hang Culture, Erhpensung Culture, PantsaiyuenCulture, Tachiuyuen Culture, Kanting (Maoerhkan)Culture, Niaosung Culture, Peiyeh Culture,Kueishan Culture, Chingpu Culture and LobusbussanCulture
Tsuo Chen Man, discovered in Tainan County
Tsuo Chen Man was excavated from the riverbedin the Tsai Liao River in Tsuo Chen Township,Tainan County. This area is a fairly importantPleistocene-era fossil site on the main islandof Taiwan, and it was also the only place wherefossilized human remains have been found, untilthe fossilized remains of a human being werefound recently in Kaohsiung County’s Takangshanregion. Samples from the fossilized remains ofTsuo Chen Man contain parietal bone fragmentsand molars from different bodies. Having beenidentified as an early Homo sapiens from thelate Pleistocene era, his precise date can be fixedbetween 20,000 and 30,000 years ago, which is thelast ice age of the Pleistocene ice age era. Thetools used by the Tsuo Chen people have not yet beendiscovered, and scholars infer that they wereperhaps the masters of the Changpin Culture. However,in their lifestyle, they were closer to theWanghsing people living in the hilly terrace areas.
Tapenkeng Culture represents the Neolithic era
Since the climate got warmer at the end of theice age, the whole world has developed early-stageagriculture in several regions suited to agriculturerespectively, with the consequence that mankindentered the Neolithic period. Not far from Taiwan,in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River,people developed rice cultivation. In South Chinaand Southeast Asia, rhizome crop cultivation wasdeveloped. Whether or not Taiwan had starteddeveloping agriculture is not yet known. However,around 6500 years ago, around Tamshui River in thenorth, and in the region of the Hsinhua andFengshan hills which were at that time along thecoast in the southwest of Taiwan, a group ofNeolithic people who brought with them agriculture,the use of pottery and ground stone utensilsappear – the Tapenkeng Culture people.
The formation of regional networks
Starting from the mid-Neolithic period, 4500years ago, people in Taiwan already knew howto cultivate rice, millet and other graincrops, in addition to rhizome crops, soagriculture was already diversifying. Apartfrom stone tools such as axes and hoes whichwere used to clear forest, turn and plow theland, there were also stone knives and stonesickles used for harvesting, which madeagriculture more efficient, and increased landmaintenance ability and the number of mouthsthat a unit of land could feed. Consequently,the importance of hunting, fishing and gatheringgradually waned. The period of settling downgrew longer, and a clear trend emerged forsettlements on the plain to become larger. Theleisured classes in these settlements grew, theweight of non-productive activities such asreligion and art increased, and regional networksfor exchange and trade gradually emerged betweensettlements.
Jade ornaments in the shape ofpeople and animals, found allover Taiwan.
The manufacture and exchange of jade objects
This situation developed for a thousand years,and when we get to about 4,000 years ago,maybe slightly earlier, perhaps due topopulation increase, people gradually moveupstream to the middle courses of the riversand into the mountains. The aim seems tohave been the search for more usable land andniches, and this move expanded the range ofland use to the middle courses of the riversand to the mountain terraces and slopes. Ofcourse, from the complexity of all the tools,we can see that land use has changed,particularly in the diversification ofagricultural production methods, the increasein productivity, food supplies didn’t runshort, and in the wake of this, all kinds ofreligious rituals and artistic forms emergedin contemporary society. Exchange and tradecontinued to flourish between settlements andgroups of people, and the manufacture andexchange of jade objects is most representativeof this period. The exchange relationshipnetwork covered most of Taiwan, and reached eventhe Penghu islands. The most famous examplesare the Peinan site in Taitung, and Wanshansite in Ilan, the Chihshanyen site in Taipei andthe Chula site in Pingtung. These jade ornamentsin the shapes of people and animals are allsimilar in shape and method of manufacture, andhorizontal in style. For reasons which areunclear, head-hunting and other small-scalewar-like behaviors emerge between differentgroups of people at this time.
Establishing the complex cultures of theAboriginals of Taiwan
Around 3500 years ago, people started to expandtheir living domain, and gradually adapted andexpanded the diverse cultural forms which wereproduced by living in different environments.Also, because the mountain and river regions ofTaiwan were disconnected, this graduallybrought about the emergence of regionalcultures, and these then became cultural unitswith their own unique developments. The complexcultural manifestations of the Aboriginals seenin Taiwan today seem to have been establishedin this stage.
The Shih San Hang site, famous for iron smelting
Around 1800 years ago, Taiwan developed bronzeand iron tool culture, along with the generalSoutheast Asia region, but locally, the Bronzeand Iron Ages were represented in this cultureby moving towards manufacturing and using iron,bronze and gold wares. Most famous is the ShihSan Hang site on the south bank of the mouth ofthe Tamshui River where remnants of ironsmelting were found. The people of the Shih SanHang Culture represented by the Shih San Hangsite were distributed along the coastal regionbetween the mouth of the Tamshui to the Chilaiplain north of Hualien.
Adaptation and expansion
Apart from metal equipment for agriculture,hunting and daily use, a large proportion ofmetalware made from copper and gold were forritual or ornamental use. It was not easy toobtain metalware in the mountain regions, andmany roughly-hewn stone axes and hoes werestill used for agriculture and cultivation.There was not a great difference between thisage and the later Neolithic period in productionmethods, but the range of mountain settlementsexpanded to high mountain regions in the upperreaches of the rivers, at an elevation of over2000 meters, even 3000 meters above sea level,and these people used the more extensiveresources of the mountain regions. The peoplesof the plains made ever more precise use of theresources of the coastal plains and tideland,and in the plains of the southwest, large-scalegarden-style settlements flourished, while inthe central and northern regions, coastal smalland medium-sized settlements were more common.Apart from the precise use of regional naturalresources, the Shih San Han Culture people inthe north made more use of ironware andbronzeware produced by smelting as goods forexchanging, and carried out trading activitiesbetween the north, east and central regions ofTaiwan. At the same time, the scope of exchangeand trade expanded to the southern regions ofthe Asian mainland, Indochina, the Philippines,the Ryuku islands and other regions, and therange of resources that were used expanded toinclude resources from outside Taiwan itself.
Edited by Hsu, Shiou-Iuan/ translated by Elizabeth Hoile