Researchers plan to row from Taiwan to Japan in dug-out canoe to prove migration theory

A team of Japanese researchers will attempt to row a dugout canoe from Taiwan’s east coast to Yonaguni Island, Japan, to try to understand how people migrated from Taiwan to Okinawa more than 30,000 years ago.

This year’s attempt comes after previous experiments using boats made from reeds, and bamboo, failed.

Japan’s National Museum of Science and nature launched the project in 2016, and attempted to sail a boat made of cattail reeds from Iriomote Island to Yonaguni Island.

At the time, project leader Yosuke Kaifu told a Vice reporter, “When we look at the tools from our excavations that our ancestors used, we are able to decide whether they could or couldn’t make things like canoes … For instance, we’ve found no evidence of axes from that period, so we decided that they probably couldn’t carve a log to make a canoe.”

The attempt to row the reed boats between the islands failed. The vessels were found to be stable, but too slow for the prevailing currents.

In 2017, with Taiwan’s National Museum of Prehistory on board, the team experimented with bamboo rafts made in Taiwan using techniques of the the Taiwan indigenous Amis ethnic group.

At that time, Yosuke Kaifu, in contrast to the comments quoted above, told Japan’s Mainichi News, “We will also test a dugout canoe (made from hollowing out a single tree), and investigate what kind of boat will be best as we move toward the real experiment in 2019.”

Tests of the bamboo raft failed in 2017 and 2018. The first version was found to be stable, but like the reed boats, too slow to navigate the currents, and a second, lighter version was found not strong enough to withstand ocean conditions.

In late 2018, the team made a stone ax, emulating stone-age technology, and used it to fell a large cedar tree in Japan to make a dugout canoe.

A Japanese anthropologist cuts down a cedar tree using a stone axe
Picture: National Museum of Science and Nature, Tokyo.

“A dugout canoe can easily capsize, but is likely to go faster”, the team told Japan Times.

The 7-meter-long canoe, weighing 350 kilograms arrived in Taiwan at the Port of Keelung, May 24, and was transported to Taitung County.

Today, the vessel underwent a traditional Amis blessing ceremony on a beach in Changbin Township, where the canoe was also put through a process of fire-hardening to improve water resistance.

Starting May 28, the crew will undertake 10 days of sea-going training, with the intention of departing for the 205 kilometer journey to Yonaguni Island sometime between June 24, and July 13.

The crew of 5 will not use compasses, clocks, mobile phones, or other modern technology while navigating the 1.5 to 3-day journey, according to United Daily News.

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[Cover picture: National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo.]

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