A study combining linguistic, genetic and archaeological evidence has traced the origins of a family of languages including modern Japanese, Korean, Turkish and Mongolian and the people who speak them to millet farmers who inhabited a region in the northeast China about 9,000 years ago.
The findings described Wednesday document a shared genetic ancestry for the hundreds of millions of people who speak what the researchers call Transurasian languages over an area that extends over 5,000 miles (8,000 km).
The findings illustrate how the adoption of agriculture by mankind after the ice age drove the dispersal of some of the world’s major language families. Millet was an important early crop as hunter-gatherers switched to an agricultural lifestyle.
There are 98 Trans-Asian languages, including Korean, Japanese, several Turkish languages in parts of Europe, Anatolia, Central Asia, and Siberia, several Mongolian languages, and several Tungusic languages in Manchuria and Siberia.
The beginnings of this language family date back to Neolithic millet farmers in the Liao River Valley, an area that encompasses parts of China’s Liaoning and Jilin provinces and the Inner Mongolia region. As these farmers moved through Northeast Asia over thousands of years, the descendant languages spread north and west into Siberia and the steppes and east to the Korean Peninsula and over the sea to the Japanese archipelago. .
The research underscored the complex beginnings of modern populations and cultures.
“Accepting that the roots of language, culture or people lie beyond current national borders is a kind of renunciation of identity, which some people are not yet ready to do,” said comparative linguist Martine Robbeets, leader of the Archaeolinguistics Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.
“Powerful nations such as Japan, Korea and China are often represented as representatives of a language, a culture and a genetic profile. But one truth that makes people with nationalistic agendas uncomfortable is that all languages, cultures and human beings, including those of Asia, are mixed, ”Robbeets added.
The researchers devised a vocabulary concept data set for all 98 languages, identified a core of inherited words related to agriculture, and created a language family tree.
Archaeologist and study co-author Mark Hudson said the researchers examined data from 255 archaeological sites in China, Japan, the Korean Peninsula and the far east of Russia, evaluating similarities in artifacts including pottery, stone tools and plant remains and animals. They also took into account the dates of 269 ancient crop remains from various sites.
The researchers determined that farmers in northeast China eventually supplemented millet with rice and wheat, an agricultural package that was passed down when these populations spread to the Korean Peninsula around 1300 BC. C. and from there to Japan after 1000 a. C.
The researchers conducted genomic analyzes on ancient remains of 23 people and examined existing data on others who lived in North and East Asia 9,500 years ago.
The origins of modern Chinese languages arose independently, albeit in a similar way, with millet also involved. While the progenitors of the trans-Eurasian languages cultivated broom millet in the Liao River Valley, the creators of the Sino-Tibetan language family cultivated foxtail millet around the same time in the Yellow River region of China, paving the way. for a separate linguistic spread, Robbeets said. .
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