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Reviewed by:
  • Taiwan Maritime Landscapes from Neolithic to Early Modern Times ed. by Paola Calanca, Liu Yichang, and Frank Muyard
  • Scarlett Chiu
Taiwan Maritime Landscapes from Neolithic to Early Modern Times. Paola Calanca, Liu Yichang, and Frank Muyard, eds. Études thématiques 34. Paris: École française d'Extrême-Orient, 2022. 392 pp. Paperback 40 €, ISBN 13-9782855392721.

This book is the result of an international conference held in Paris in 2015 that focused on historical maritime interaction around the island of Taiwan in the hope that, by providing an overview of current research status from multiple disciplines, future research topics might be generated. Thus, the papers included in this collection are from a variety of fields and cover a vast range of topics, from descriptions of Taiwan's surrounding natural environment, climate changes, seasonal winds, and current conditions to descriptions of related Neolithic to proto-historic archaeological cultures of Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands, Philippines, and Thai-Malay Peninsula, summaries and interpretations of Chinese and Spanish historical documents, and some related ethnographic, genetic, and linguistic studies in the South China Sea region. The volume is organized so that the reader is first introduced to how the archaeology of Taiwan was established and the social and political factors that still impact how archaeological investigations are conducted there in the present day. Readers next learn of how the natural environment of the island, and other factors such as the diffusion and introduction of new species, new technical knowledge, exchange and trade networks, and political conflicts between China, Japan, Southeast Asian countries, and European mercantile companies may have influenced the course of Taiwan history, especially during its proto-historic period.

"An Island tossed by Asian currents" (chapter 1) is how the editors describe this island-in-between to emphasize how constantly outside influences from China, Japan, and Island Southeast Asia have impacted the island of Taiwan ever since some 5500 years ago. In many of the following chapters, multiple lines of archaeological evidence are used to demonstrate that all the participants in the exchange networks of the South China Sea were influenced by each other, resulting in changes in the archaeological material culture of Taiwan, the Philippines, and the Thai-Malay Peninsula. This is perhaps best illustrated by Siame and Leduc (chapter 3) when they suggest that mid-Holocene migrations out of Taiwan to either the Yaeyama Islands or Batanes/Luzon were more likely to have occurred during El Nino phases, since anyone drifting toward these islands would have had to contend with strong Kuroshio currents. Their paper gives a great general summary of [End Page 131] the natural environment and oceanic conditions of the region, but, in contrast to the intensive discussions around sailing and boatbuilding techniques employed in the Pacific (e.g., Davies and Bickler 2015; Irwin 1992; Irwin and Flay 2015), no consideration of sailing techniques other than simple drifting is mentioned in this paper.

In the works by Liu (chapter 4) and Tsang (chapter 5), attempts were made to describe how the first Neolithic culture, the Tapenkeng, formed inside Taiwan some 5500 years ago, its relationship with contemporary coastal Chinese sites, and how it evolved into the various cultures seen later in the island. Chiang's paper (chapter 6) reminds us that, because of the minimal and fragmentary information available, Tapenkeng Culture is an ill-defined culture complex, a temporary blanket term that encompasses almost all the rather mobile coastal people who practiced horticulture and marine-based subsistence strategies in a region spanning from southeast China to Taiwan and perhaps to the southern Ryukyu Islands from 7000 to 4200 B.P. Since this lifestyle may have lasted for thousands of years in these island environments, Chiang's paper cautions us to reexamine the criteria used for defining archaeological cultures and their durations before discussing any possible directions of cultural diffusion or migration.

Liu (chapter 8) summarizes research on the prehistoric network between Taiwan and the Philippines that existed about 4000 years ago. This network facilitated the export of nephrite from Hualian of eastern Taiwan to Luzon and its subsequent use in several Southeast Asian Neolithic to Metal Age sites over the next 2500 years (Hung et al...