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Reimagining Austronesia

ISEA expansions

Island Southeast Asian expansions

This site assembles various publications on the subject of the 'Austronesian dispersal', a socio-cultural event that has taken place across much of Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific over the last 4,000 years. The focus here is a paper by Tim Denham and Mark Donohue concerning the nature of this dispersal, challenging many pieces of 'received wisdom' about the nature and process of interdisciplinary evidence.

The key paper is the following:

Donohue, Mark, and Tim Denham. 2010. Farming and Language in Island Southeast Asia: reframing Austronesian history. Current Anthropology 51 (2): 223-256. (PDF, 1.2MB)

In this paper we argue that the supposed congruence of different lines of evidence (as described in Oppenheimer 2004) is illusory, and that the witness of different lines of archaeology, linguistics and genetics do not point to a single, dramatic revolution that changed the social face of Island Southeast Asia.

The Current Anthropology paper describes the position, and argues for it. Various other pieces of work provide either a supporting framework for the position we take, or else elaborate on this position.

In addition to providing downloads of these papers, we also reference other works that are relevant in evaluating claims about the 'Austronesian dispersal'.

The Austronesian languages have been shown to have a homeland in (modern) Taiwan; the evidence of historical linguistics (eg., Tryon 1995) unambiguously selects this location as the only possible homeland. A great amount of historical linguistics work (eg., Robert Blust's work)

The 'standard view', an integrationist perspective on Austronesian culture history, The Austronesians, was published in 1995 and both summarises thought to that point, and influenced much subsequent thinking.

The following papers, leading up to or building on the 2010 paper mentioned above, offer alternative perspectives.

These downloads are arranged thematically, rather than by date or by author.

The continued presence of 'Papuan' languages outside New Guinea

Donohue, Mark. 2014, in press. Studying Contact without Detailed Studies of the Languages Involved: A Non-Philological Approach to Language Contact. In Florian Lionnet and Oana David, eds, Proceedings of the 38th Annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistic Society, February 10-12 2012 (Language Contact). Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistic Society. (PDF, 1.3MB)

Donohue, Mark. 2007. The Papuan language of Tambora. Oceanic linguistics 46 (2): 520-537. (PDF, 0.8MB)

Donohue, Mark. 2013. Towards a Papuan history of languages. Language and Linguistics in Melanesia 31 (1): 24-41. Available online at, or download here (PDF, 1.1MB).

Donohue, Mark, and Tim Denham. in press. Becoming Austronesian: mechanisms of language dispersal across southern Island Southeast Asia. In David Gil and John McWhorter, eds., Austronesian Undressed. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. (PDF, 4.2MB).

The archaeology of western New Guinea and Island Southeast Asia

Wright, Duncan, Tim Denham, Denis Shine and Mark Donohue. 2013. An Archaeological Review of western New Guinea. Journal of World Prehistory 26 (1): 25-73. (PDF, 4.1MB)

Barton, Huw and Tim Denham. 2011. Prehistoric vegeculture and social life in Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia. In Graeme Barker and Monica Janowski, eds, Why Cultivate? Anthropological and Archaeological Approaches to Foraging-Farming Transitions in Southeast Asia, 17-25. (McDonald Institute Monographs) Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. (PDF, 0.8MB)

The non-congruence of language and culture

Donohue, Mark, and Tim Denham. in press. The role of contact and language shift in the spread of Austronesian languages across Island Southeast Asia. In Pieter Muysken, Jean-Marie Hombert and Mily Crevels, eds., Language Dispersal, Diversification, and Contact: A Global Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (PDF, 0.9MB)

Donohue, Mark, and Tim Denham. 2008. The Language of Lapita: Vanuatu and an early Papuan Presence in the Pacific. Oceanic Linguistics 47 (2): 365-376. (PDF, 0.4MB)

The non-congruence of language and genes

Denham, Tim, and Mark Donohue. 2012. Reconnecting genes, languages and material culture in Island Southeast Asia: aphorisms on geography and history. Language Dynamics and Change 2: 184-211. (PDF, 0.3MB)

Denham, Tim, and Mark Donohue. 2012. Lack of correspondence between Asian-Papuan genetic admixture and Austronesian dispersal in eastern Indonesia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (39): E2577. (PDF, 0.5MB)

(this is a response to Xu et al.; it attracted a response, and an almost simultaneous paper from the same lab from which the Xu et al. paper was produced, largely agreeing with the conclusions we outline)

Donohue, Mark, and Tim Denham. 2012. Lapita and Proto-Oceanic: thinking outside the pot. Journal of Pacific History 47 (4): 443-457. (PDF, 0.7MB)

The evidence of linguistics

Donohue, Mark. 2007. Word order in Austronesian: from north to south and west to east. Linguistic Typology 11 (2): 351-393. (PDF, 0.8MB)

Donohue, Mark. 2010. Dental discrepancies and the sound of Proto-Austronesian. In Bethwyn Evans, ed., Discovering History through Language: papers in honour of Malcolm Ross: 271-287. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics 605. (PDF, 3.7MB)

Donohue, Mark, and Charles E. Grimes. 2008. Yet more on the position of the languages of eastern Indonesia and East Timor. Oceanic Linguistics 47 (1): 115-159. (PDF, 0.9MB)

(this article points out the evidence against assuming a 'Proto-Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian' subgroup within Austronesian. It attracted a response from Robert Blust (PDF, 0.6MB) which denies some of the points we raised, and agrees with others, while maintaining the existence of the subgroup)

Donohue, Mark, and Antoinette Schapper. 2008. Whence the Oceanic indirect possessive construction? Oceanic Linguistics 47 (2): 316-327. (PDF, 0.4MB)

(this paper points out that many features associated with Proto-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian, or Proto-Oceanic, can be traced to Papuan contact situations in Wallacea)

Donohue, Mark, Tim Denham and Stephen Oppenheimer. 2012. Uncoupling inheritance and diffusion: a lexical-based methodology detects social distance. Diachronica 29 (4): 502-522. (PDF, 1.5MB)

Donohue, Mark, Tim Denham and Stephen Oppenheimer. 2012. Consensus and the lexicon in historical linguistics. Diachronica 29 (4): 538-546. (PDF, 0.2MB)

(these two papers are strongly linked to this paper by Russell Gray and colleagues; a reply to the 'Uncoupling inheritance and diffusion' article is in this PDF (0.8MB))

The evidence of genetics

Soares, Pedro, Teresa Rito, Jean Trejaut, Maru Mormina, Catherine Hill, Emma Tinkler-Hundai, Michelle Braid, Douglas J. Clarke, Jun-Hun Loo, Noel Thomson, Tim Denham, Mark Donohue, Vincent Macaulay, Marie Lin, Stephen Oppenheimer and Martin Richards 2011. Ancient Voyaging and Polynesian Origins. American Journal of Human Genetics 88: 239-247. (PDF, 0.6MB)

Donohue, Mark, and Tim Denham. 2011. Language and genes attest different histories in Island Southeast Asia. Oceanic Linguistics 50 (2): 536-542. (PDF, 0.3MB)

This work reports on the linguistic implications of the data reported by the HUGO consortium:

HUGO Pan-Asian SNP Consortium. 2009. Mapping human genetic diversity in Asia. Science 326: 1541–45.

Other recent work that challenges the notion that language and genes dispersed together includes:

Wilder, Jason A., Murray P. Cox, Andrew M. Paquette, Regan Alford, Ari W. Satyagraha, Alida Harahap and Herawati Sudoyo. 2011. Genetic continuity across a deeply divergent linguistic contact zone in North Maluku, Indonesia. BMC Genetics 12: 100.

Tumonggor, Meryanne K., Tatiana M. Karafet, Brian Hallmark, J. Stephen Lansing, Herawati Sudoyo, Michael F. Hammer and Murray P. Cox. 2013. The Indonesian archipelago: an ancient genetic highway linking Asia and the Pacific. Journal of Human Genetics 58: 165–173.

(in this paper Tumonggor et al. make several interesting points, including:

'many aspects of culture—notably the widespread dispersal of Austronesian languages—are not obviously associated with genetics.'

'no single shared mtDNA lineage links all speakers of Austronesian languages, even if only at low frequency. Instead, Austronesian populations are characterized more by their diversity than by any shared genetic inheritance.'

'the networks are not informative about the direction of migration: the data would fit a model of rapid expansion from Taiwan to the Philippines and Indonesia, but are equally consistent with population movements in the opposite direction.'

'Among Asian populations, Indonesians cluster most closely with the Philippines and Vietnam, and more distantly with Taiwan.'

The data analysed and presented in this paper seriously and overtly challenge the view that the Austronesian languages dispersed with a strong genetic signal)

The story from domesticated crops

Denham, Tim, Richard Fullagar and Lesley Head 2009. Plant exploitation on Sahul: From colonisation to the emergence of regional specialisation during the Holocene. Quaternary International 202: 29-40. (PDF, 1.0MB)

Denham, Tim, and Mark Donohue. 2009. Pre-Austronesian dispersal of banana cultivars west from New Guinea: linguistic relics from eastern Indonesia. Archaeology in Oceania 44: 18-28. (PDF, 0.6MB)

De Langhe, Edmond, Luc Vrydaghs, Pierre de Maret, Xavier Perrier and Tim Denham. 2009. Why bananas matter: An introduction to the history of banana domestication. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 7: 165-177. (PDF, 0.5MB)

Denham, Tim. 2009. A practice-centred method for charting the emergence and transformation of agriculture. Current Anthropology 50: 661-667. (PDF, 1.0MB)

Donohue, Mark, and Tim Denham. 2009. Banana (Musa spp.) Domestication in the Asia-Pacific Region: Linguistic and archaeobotanical perspectives. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 7: 293-332. (PDF, 0.8MB)

Denham, Tim. 2010. From domestication histories to regional prehistory: Using plants to re-evaluate early and mid-Holocene interaction between New Guinea and Southeast Asia. Food and History 8: 3-22. (PDF, 0.2MB)

Denham, Tim. 2011. Early agriculture and plant domestication in New Guinea and Island Southeast Asia. Current Anthropology 52(S4): S379-S395. (PDF, 0.7MB)

Xavier Perrier, Edmond De Langhe, Mark Donohue, Carol Lentfer, Luc Vrydaghs, Frédéric Bakry, Françoise Carreel, Isabelle Hippolyte, Jean-Pierre Horry, Christophe Jenny, Vincent Lebot, Ange-Marie Risterucci, Kodjo Tomekpe, Hugues Doutrelepont, Terry Ball, Jason Manwaring, Pierre de Maret, and Tim Denham. 2011. Multidisciplinary perspectives on banana (Musa spp.) domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (28): 11311-11318. (PDF, 1.6MB)

This research was highlighted and discussed in:

Holmes, Bob. 2013. Nana from heaven? How our favourite fruit came to be / Go, Bananas. New Scientist 2913: 38-41. (PDF, 5.2MB)

The story from archaeology

Barton, Huw, Tim Denham, Katharina Neumann and Manuel Arroyo-Kalin, eds. 2012. Long-Term Perspectives on Human Occupation of Tropical Rainforests. Quaternary International 249. (PDF, 0.1MB)

Denham, Tim. 2013. Early farming in Island Southeast Asia: an alternative hypothesis. Antiquity 87: 250-257. (PDF, 0.2MB)

Denham, Tim. 2013. Ancient and historic dispersals of sweet potato in Oceania. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110: 1982-1983. (PDF, 0.2MB)

Specht, Jim, Tim Denham, James Goff and John Edward Terrell. 2013. Deconstructing the Lapita Cultural Complex in the Bismarck Archipelago. Journal of Archaeological Research (PDF, 0.9MB)

Denham, Tim, Christopher Bronk-Ramsey, and Jim Specht. 2012. Dating the appearance of Lapita pottery in the Bismarck Archipelago and its dispersal to Remote Oceania. Archaeology in Oceania 47 (1): 39-46. (PDF, 0.2MB)

Essential readings

Bellwood, Peter. 1995. Austronesian prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, expansion and transformation. In The Austronesians: Historical and comparative perspectives, ed. by Peter Bellwood, Jim Fox, and Darrell Tryon, 103–18. Canberra: Australian National University.

Blust, Robert. 2009. The Austronesian languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics

Updated:  26 February 2014/ Responsible Officer:  Mark Donohue/ Page Contact:  Mark Donohue