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17 Nov

“There was a culinary frontier,” says Alison Crowther, an archaeologist at the University of Queensland, St. Her team collected more than 2400 samples of botanical remains at 20 sites on the African mainland and on offshore islands and Madagascar, and obtained 43 radiocarbon dates from crop seeds. The line traced by the study shows that the two regions, although close geographically, were worlds apart in their way of life, suggesting a wholesale colonization of Madagascar and the Comoros.

A thousand years ago and more, Arab and Indian sailors conducted a bustling trade between East Africa to India.

For anthropologist Jennifer Cole, these often-awkward gatherings are rich opportunities for fieldwork that offer a glimpse into the emergence of a transnational culture as it forms.

For more than two decades, Cole, a professor of cultural anthropology, has studied the legacy of French colonization in Madagascar.

Our excavations of the remains of ancient Ambaro, the likely location of the royal capital of Fenoarivo as visited by Robert Drury in 1703 (Drury 1729), recovered ceramics, gunflints, stone pipes and traces of house floors.

Some 25 km south of Ambaro we located the most ancient royal centres in Androy, at Montefeno and Anjampanorora, dating to the 16th and 17th centuries.

he settlement of the Indian Ocean’s largest island is one of the great mysteries in humanity’s colonization of the globe.

Madagascar lies just 400 kilometers off the East African coast.

Photo: Namrata Singh for The Wall Street Journal IMADY, Madagascar—Nirina Toto slunk across the muddy ring and leapt aboard his unsuspecting adversary, 1,000 pounds of hoof and horn, with a lumpy flour-sack hump. Toto free, and the crowd of hundreds jammed shoulder to shoulder above the sunken enclosure cheered. Now, new studies—recent or soon-to-be-published—trace a wave of Austronesian colonization between 700 C. The study by Boivin and her colleagues, published today in the , found that these voyagers did not stop at Madagascar.Some also settled the Comoro Islands, scattered between Madagascar and the African coast.We carried out surveys of woodland composition in three locales, to provide comparisons with the classifications of primary and secondary forest derived from analysis of satellite remote sensing imagery.The search for associated Aepyornis (Elephant Bird) and human occupation sites was less successful, with only a small group of thousand-year old shell middens at the Manambovo rivermouth likely to yield evidence of Aepyornis eggshells exploited by human groups.“The samples taken from sites on Madagascar and the Comoros contained few or no African crops, but were instead dominated by species such as Asian rice, mung bean and Asian cotton,” she said.By examining where else in the Indian Ocean these crops were grown, and drawing on historical and linguistic data, the team was able to make a strong case that the crops reached Madagascar from Island Southeast Asia.In recent years, she has given particular attention to the emigration of women from Madagascar to France.There’s a shortage of single women in rural France, and so it has become common for working-class Frenchmen to seek brides in Madagascar via matchmakers and Internet dating sites.We also initiated a ceramic petrology project, gathering clay samples from known areas of past manufacture. Whereas only two stone-walled enclosures of the 11th-13th centuries AD were previously known in Androy, we found another three in the region.One of them, at Mafelefo, has an impressively long wall circuit which encloses an occupation area of over 20 ha.