Prevailing theory suggests that the present-day populations of Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) originate largely from a Neolithic expansion from Taiwan driven by rice agriculture about 4,000 years ago - the so-called "Out of Taiwan" model.Molecular Biology and Evolution 2008 25(6):1209-1218; doi:10.1093/molbev/msn068
However an international research team, led by the UK’s first Professor of Archaeogenetics, Martin Richards, has shown that a substantial fraction of their mitochondrial DNA lineages (inherited down the female line of descent), have been evolving within ISEA for a much longer period, possibly since modern humans arrived some 50,000 years ago.
Moreover, the lineage can be shown to have actually expanded in the opposite direction - into Taiwan - within the last 10,000 years.
Says Professor Richards: “I think the study results are going to be a big surprise for many archaeologists and linguists on whose studies conventional migration theories are based. These population expansions had nothing to do with agriculture, but were most likely to have been driven by climate change - in particular, global warming and the resulting sea-level rises at the end of the Ice Age between 15,000-7,000 years ago.”
Climate Change and Postglacial Human Dispersals in Southeast Asia
Pedro Soares et al.
Modern humans have been living in Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) for at least 50,000 years. Largely because of the influence of linguistic studies, however, which have a shallow time depth, the attention of archaeologists and geneticists has usually been focused on the last 6,000 years—in particular, on a proposed Neolithic dispersal from China and Taiwan. Here we use complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome sequencing to spotlight some earlier processes that clearly had a major role in the demographic history of the region but have hitherto been unrecognized. We show that haplogroup E, an important component of mtDNA diversity in the region, evolved in situ over the last 35,000 years and expanded dramatically throughout ISEA around the beginning of the Holocene, at the time when the ancient continent of Sundaland was being broken up into the present-day archipelago by rising sea levels. It reached Taiwan and Near Oceania more recently, within the last ~8,000 years. This suggests that global warming and sea-level rises at the end of the Ice Age, 15,000–7,000 years ago, were the main forces shaping modern human diversity in the region.