A team of Japanese and Taiwanese paddlers from two museums on Tuesday successfully replicated a hypothetical human migration between Taiwan and Okinawa about 30,000 years ago, by arriving at a southern Japanese island in a dugout canoe.
During the two-day, 200-kilometer voyage from Taitung County, southeastern Taiwan, to Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture, the team of five paddlers -- one Taiwanese and four Japanese including a woman -- relied solely on the stars, sun and wind for their bearings.
They departed Taiwan on Sunday afternoon in their 7.6-meter-long, 70-centimeter-wide wooden canoe, crossing the Black Stream, which begins off the Philippines and flows northeastward past Japan.
The voyage was one of the multiple research projects signed in 2017 between Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science and Taiwan's National Museum of Prehistory. The team achieved success after two failed attempts in 2017 and 2018.
According to Yosuke Kaifu, 50, leader of the team who accompanied the canoe aboard an escort ship, Japanese archaeologists have found that early humans migrated to Japan via three routes and one of them is along the course of the Black Stream. However, it is unknown how they actually travelled to the Japanese islands.
The project involving the two museums was intended to shed light on how difficult the journey would have been, Kaifu said.
"I was worried when (they) temporarily went off course, but am glad to see them arrive," Kaifu said after the paddlers reached Yonaguni, welcomed by several hundred islanders.
"It was a perfect voyage," said Koji Hara, a 47-year-old lead paddler. "The Black Stream carried the canoe and all we did was steer it a little." The five were tired, but did not have any health issues.
Discovery of relics dating back to more than 30,000 years ago on several islands of the Ryukyu Archipelago has made archeologists speculate that a group of ancient settlers migrated to Japan from what is now Taiwan in the Paleolithic era, which extends from some 2.6 million years ago to around 15,000 years ago.
Kaifu has said that even if the project is successful, he would not jump to the conclusion that some ancestors of the Japanese people came from Taiwan, but at least it would show the possibility is quite high.
The other two routes for early human migration to Japan are one from the Korean Peninsula across the Tsushima Strait about 38,000 years ago and another from Eurasia across the Tsugaru Strait that separates the Japanese main islands of Honshu and Hokkaido.
Before Kaifu persuaded the two museums to fund the project, he initiated a similar project in 2016 when two primitive canoes made from local straw departed from Yonaguni Island bound for Taiwan. They only managed to reach the neighboring island of Iriomote, about 75 km away.
The 2017 voyage, on a boat made of bamboo and rattan grown in Taiwan, made it from Tawu Township, Taitung County, to Green Island, which is about 66 km away.
The 2018 boat was also made of bamboo and rattan, but it was smaller and carried fewer people. It did not last long in the open sea.