A proto-Transeurasian language may have been spoken by millet farmers who lived 9000 years ago in the area of north-east China. This language gave rise to Japanese, Turkish, and other modern languages.
A woman carrying millet (a crop that was grown in Transeurasian proto-Transeurasian languages Frank Bienewald and Alamy).
The vast Transeurasian language family, which includes the Japanese, Korean and Mongolian languages, has its roots back to 9000 years ago, in early farming communities in north-east China.
Transeurasian languages can be found in a large part of Europe and northern Asia. Researchers assumed they originated in Mongolia 3000 years ago. They were spoken by horse-riding nomads, who raised livestock, but not crops.
Martine Robbeets, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Jena), and her collaborators used linguistic and archaeological evidence to prove that the language family was spread by the emergence of millet cultivation by Chinese farmers.
This was done by studying the linguistic characteristics of the languages, and then using computational analysis to map the spread of these languages through time and space based on similarities. Robbeets was able to trace the proto-Transeurasian languages back to the Liao River in north-east China approximately 9000 years ago.
Robbeets says this is the exact date and location that millet was domesticated.
Continue reading: More than 400 languages may have originated from northern China.
By adding genetic information and carbon-dating millet grains, the team revealed that the proto-Transeurasian-speaking population split into separate communities that then started adopting early forms of Japanese, Korean and the Tungusic languages to the east of the original site, as well as early forms of Mongolic languages to the north and of Turkic languages to the west.
"We have languages and archaeology, as well as genetics, which all have dates. Robbeets says that they just checked to see if the dates were correlated.
Some descendants of these farmers moved eastwards to Korea around 6500 years ago. They learned how to cultivate rice there about 3300 years ago. This led to the migration of people from Korea to Japan.
"We all identify with language. It is our identity. It's our identity. We see ourselves as one culture, one tongue, and one genetic profile. Robbeets says that our study has shown that Asians are mixed, just like other populations."
Researchers were also shocked to find the first evidence that Neolithic Koreans reproduced with Jomon people. This is a surprising discovery since they were previously believed to have only lived in Japan.
Melinda Yang, University of Richmond in Virginia says that "this study highlights the richness of a narrative that can be created when linguistic and archaeological data are all considered."
Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04108-8