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Professor presents new theory of age of Okinawa

Date Posted: 2003-10-24

The Okinawa archipelago, the Ryukyu islands, are older than previously thought. That is the view of a University of the Ryukyus professor who is challenging the most accepted theories on Okinawa’s origins. The commonly accepted belief is that the islands formed about one to one and half a million years ago, being a part of the Asian landmass before that.

As a proof, scientists cite the fact that animals found on the islands are the same species found in China and Far East Asia. They speculate that the islands became separated from the continent when an ancient ice age ended, causing the sea level to rise some 100 meters.

Assistant Professor Hidetoshi Ota of the University of the Ryukyus is now challenging that theory. He argues that the islands became separated from the Asian continent much earlier, perhaps as much as five million years ago.

Ota bases his argument on the fact that the DNA of habu snake and frogs found on Okinawa and other islands of the Ryukyu chain are much different from the DNA of the same species on Amami Islands north of Okinawa. His calculations show that the species must have separated from their cousins on the mainland Asia about five million years ago.

Ota says that the DNA of the habu living in Okinawa and Yaeyama is much different from the DNA of habu in Kyushu, and the same goes for frogs also. Since both habu and frogs are incapable of crossing an ocean, they must have survived on the islands since they were formed. The professor he still cannot explain though, why there are no habus on Miyako Island, although it must have formed at the same time.

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