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Ref ID: 36745
Ref Type: Book Section in a Series
Authors: Blench, Roger
Title: 'The world turned upside down': sago-palm processors in northeast India and the origins of Chinese civilization
Date: 2020
Source: EurASEAA14: papers from the Fourteenth International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists. Volume 1: ancient and living traditions
Place of Publication: Oxford
Publisher: Archaeopress
Abstract: The usual image of the Sino-Tibetan language phylum is of a coherent grouping of agricultural peoples in the region between the Himalayas and Yunnan giving rise to the Sinitic languages and, in due course, to Chinese civilization, with a primary split leading to the development of other branches such as Tibetan and Burmese. This view has been compromised by recent findings in both linguistics and archaeology. Arunachal Pradesh and its region in Northeast India are largely occupied by highly diverse populations speaking either Sino-Tibetan languages or possibly isolates. Some of these peoples are former hunter-gatherers, and until recently depended for subsistence on tubers, vegetative crops and processing the sago palm, rather than rice and other cereals. The archaeology of northeast India is poorly developed, and in particular there are no direct dates to establish the date or process of the transition from foraging to agriculture. Linguistic methods can be used to contribute to hypotheses concerning the nature of this process. This paper explores regional linguistic ethnohistory, contributing a new and more accurate map of languages. It then looks at evidence for subsistence, in particular the significance of the mithun, a local bovid, and vegetative crops such as taro and the Musaceae. In particular, it argues that the languages ancestral to Sinitic emerged out of this region subsequent to other branches of Sino-Tibetan, first reaching northern China, adopting millet cultivation and then moving south to the Yang Tze valley. This constitutes a significant inversion of the usual narrative about the evolution of Chinese culture.
Identifier: ISBN 9781789695052
Editors: Lewis, Helen
Volume: 1
Page Start: 190
Page End: 202
Series Editor: Lewis, Helen