Abstract Background Despite attempts in retracing the history of the Thao people in Taiwan using folktales, linguistics, physical anthropology, and ethnic studies, their history remains incomplete. The heritage of Thao has been associated with the Pazeh Western plains peoples and several other mountain peoples of Taiwan. In the last 400â years, their culture and genetic profile have been reshaped by East Asian migrants. They were displaced by the Japanese and the construction of a dam and almost faced extinction. In this paper, genetic information from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Histoleucocyte antigens (HLA), and the non-recombining Y chromosome of 30 Thao individuals are compared to 836 other Taiwan Mountain and Plains Aborigines (TwrIP & TwPp), 384 Non-Aboriginal Taiwanese (non-TwA) and 149 Continental East Asians. Results The phylogeographic analyses of mtDNA haplogroups F4b and B4b1a2 indicated gene flow between Thao, Bunun, and Tsou, and suggested a common ancestry from 10,000 to 3000â years ago. A claim of close contact with the heavily Sinicized Pazeh of the plains was not rejected and suggests that the plains and mountain peoples most likely shared the same Austronesian agriculturist gene pool in the Neolithic. Conclusions Having been moving repeatedly since their arrival in Taiwan between 6000 and 4500â years ago, the Thao finally settled in the central mountain range. They represent the last plains people whose strong bonds with their original culture allowed them to preserve their genetic heritage, despite significant gene flow from the mainland of Asia. Representing a considerable contribution to the genealogical history of the Thao people, the findings of this study bear on ongoing anthropological and linguistic debates on their origin.