Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 256–280 | Cite as

Foraging–Farming Transitions in Island Southeast Asia

  • Graeme BarkerEmail author
  • Martin B. Richards


The origins of agriculture have been debated by archaeologists for most of the discipline’s history, no more so than in Island Southeast Asia. The orthodox view is that Neolithic farmers spread south by sea from mainland China to Taiwan and thence to Island Southeast Asia, taking with them a new material culture and domestic rice and pigs and speaking the precursor of the Austronesian languages that are spoken in the region today. Opponents of this ‘farming/language dispersal’ theory have proposed models of acculturation, in which foragers acquired new material culture and food resources by trading with farmers. However, new work in archaeology, palaeoecology, palynology and anthropology, especially in Borneo, and in genetics and linguistics for the region as a whole, is suggesting that foraging/farming transitions in Southeast Asia were far more complex than either of these opposing ‘grand narratives’ of discontinuity (population colonisation) or continuity (acculturation) allows. Through the course of the Early/Mid-Holocene new material culture, technologies and foods were variously taken up, promoted or resisted in order to provision changes in the social and ideological constitution of societies. Whilst new readings of the data for foraging–farming transitions in the region vary, a consensus is emerging that it is more useful to focus on how materials and modes of life were used to underwrite changes in social networks than to seek to explain the archaeological record in terms of migrating farmers or acculturating foragers.


Early farming Foraging Hunter-gatherers Island Southeast Asia Niah Caves Borneo 



The authors are grateful for the helpful comments of the editors and anonymous referees and of Roger Blench and Pedro Soares on an earlier version of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McDonald Institute for Archaeological ResearchCambridgeUK
  2. 2.School of Applied SciencesUniversity of HuddersfieldHuddersfieldUK

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