[Paper] When did Homo sapiens first reach Southeast Asia and Sahul?

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via PNAS, 06 August 2018: A new paper in PNAS reviews the evidence of human migration into Southeast Asia and Australia around 50,000 years ago, and in particular a critical discussion of another recent paper about the Madjedbebe rock shelter that pushes this date back to 65,000 years.

The PNAS paper is not Open Access unfortunately, but for a good summary of the paper reader the associated piece in The Conversation.

When did Homo sapiens first reach Southeast Asia and Sahul?
O’Connell et al, 2018

PNAS, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1808385115

Anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens , AMH) began spreading across Eurasia from Africa and adjacent Southwest Asia about 50,000–55,000 years ago ( ca . 50–55 ka). Some have argued that human genetic, fossil, and archaeological data indicate one or more prior dispersals, possibly as early as 120 ka. A recently reported age estimate of 65 ka for Madjedbebe, an archaeological site in northern Sahul (Pleistocene Australia–New Guinea), if correct, offers what might be the strongest support yet presented for a pre–55-ka African AMH exodus. We review evidence for AMH arrival on an arc spanning South China through Sahul and then evaluate data from Madjedbebe. We find that an age estimate of > ka for this site is unlikely to be valid. While AMH may have moved far beyond Africa well before 50–55 ka, data from the region of interest offered in support of this idea are not compelling.

Source: When did Homo sapiens first reach Southeast Asia and Sahul?

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Rebutting the myth that Malays have the second oldest genes in the world

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Malaysia has a complex history of ethnonationalism, in which people who are identified as Malay (but more accurately native Malaysians) are given special privileges over other ethnic groups in the country. This has led to a number of social, economic and political problems but the one that I want to highlight here is the misuse of science and archaeological research to advance this agenda. Last week, a historian speaking at the ominously named “The Origins of the Malay” forum “quoted” the work of the Human Genome Organisation and said that after the Africans, the Malays have the second oldest genetic lineages in the world, even going so far as to imply that the Malays were ultimately responsible for establishing the Chinese and Greek civilizations.

DNA strand. Image by Caroline Davis2010

Image by Caroline Davis2010

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The prehistoric peopling of Southeast Asia

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Earlier this month, a fascinating paper was published in Science about the genetic origins of Southeast Asian populations. Analysis of genomes from 25 ancient samples reveal that rather the neither of the existing theories (hunter-gathering Hoabinhians, or agriculturalists from China) are correct, and that there are four ancient populations the form the basis of all modern Southeast Asian populations today.

The prehistoric peopling of Southeast Asia
McColl et al.
Science 06 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6397, pp. 88-92
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat3628

The human occupation history of Southeast Asia (SEA) remains heavily debated. Current evidence suggests that SEA was occupied by Hòabìnhian hunter-gatherers until ~4000 years ago, when farming economies developed and expanded, restricting foraging groups to remote habitats. Some argue that agricultural development was indigenous; others favor the “two layer” hypothesis that posits a southward expansion of farmers giving rise to present-day Southeast Asian genetic diversity. By sequencing 26 ancient human genomes (25 from SEA, 1 Japanese Jōmon), we show that neither interpretation fits the complexity of Southeast Asian history: Both Hòabìnhian hunter-gatherers and East Asian farmers contributed to current Southeast Asian diversity, with further migrations affecting island SEA and Vietnam. Our results help resolve one of the long-standing controversies in Southeast Asian prehistory.

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New evidence about the ancient humans who occupied Asia is cascading in

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via Aeon.co, 29 MArch 2018:

Modern humans arose only once, in Africa, about 200,000 years ago. They then spread across Eurasia some time after 60,000 years ago, replacing whatever indigenous populations they met with no interbreeding. This is the ‘Out of Africa’ model, as it’s commonly known. In the 1990s, the hypothesis found widespread acceptance by palaeoanthropologists, especially when the first analyses of Neanderthal DNA seemed to indicate that Neanderthals and modern humans did not interbreed. But this popular idea is in need of revision, particularly given the number of important findings across Asia over the past few decades.

Source: In to Asia | Aeon

New Paper: Rock art and the colonisation of Southeast Asia

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Over the past decade, archaeologists have been able to directly date rock art, particularly in Island Southeast Asia at sites in East Kalimantan, East Timor and South Sulawesi. The dates of rock art indicate that modern humans were creating rock art during the Pleistocene, comparable to similar rock art in Europe. In this paper by Aubert et al., the authors note that the presence of these sites and dates now begs the question, did the ability to create rock art move out of Africa with human migrations, or did it erupt independently in different parts of the world? Also within Island Southeast Asia, did rock art develop from a specific place and spread throughout prehistoric Sahul, or did it arise independently among different communities in the region?

Recent technological developments in scientific dating methods and their applications to a broad range of materials have transformed our ability to accurately date rock art. These novel breakthroughs in turn are challenging and, in some instances, dramatically changing our perceptions of the timing and the nature of the development of rock art and other forms of symbolic expression in various parts of the late Pleistocene world. Here we discuss the application of these methods to the dating of rock art in Southeast Asia, with key implications for understanding the pattern of recent human evolution and dispersal outside Africa.

The Timing and Nature of Human Colonization of Southeast Asia in the Late Pleistocene: A Rock Art Perspective – Current Anthropology
https://doi.org/10.1086/694414

Old teeth from a rediscovered cave show humans were in Indonesia more than 63,000 years ago

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Exciting new paper just published in Nature indicates evidence for humans in Sumatra as early as 63,000 years ago from a reinvestigation of remains at Lida Ajer cave. The findings and location of the site imply that humans were adept at rainforest exploitation from a very early period, and that perhaps the migration of early humans from Southeast Asia to Australia may not necessarily hugged the coastline as theorised.

Source: Old teeth from a rediscovered cave show humans were in Indonesia more than 63,000 years ago

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UP study offers clues to ancient biodiversity, early human movement in Southeast Asia

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via UP Press Office, 18 July 2017:

The prehistoric shell tools uncovered in Mindoro by the team of archaeologists, geologists, ecologists, geneticists and social scientists from the University of the Philippines could point to the start of a transition from hunting/gathering to the agricultural or semi-agricultural subsistence strategies of our ancestors.

Since 2012, the team has been working on an ambitious multiyear project funded by the Emerging Interdisciplinary Research Program to answer questions about ancient biodiversity and early human movement in Island Southeast Asia.

Using Mindoro as the site of study, they hoped to find not only further clues to how early humans arrived in the Philippine islands and how landscape formation, sea levels and landmass affected their movement but also indications of how such movement changed fauna and flora.

Source: UP study offers clues to ancient biodiversity, early human movement in Southeast Asia

Humans occupied northern Australia 65,000 years ago: What does this mean for SEA?

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An exciting paper was published last week in Nature and received a fair bit of media coverage: dating from the Madjedbebe site in Northern Territories of Australia have yielded the earliest human occupation dates of 65,000 years, setting a new minimum age of human migration. The previous conventional earliest occupation date was about 47,000 years ago – so this new date is a pretty big deal. The finds have a bigger implication for human occupation in Southeast Asia: so far the oldest modern human remains found in SEA are from Tham Pa Ling in Laos, which are approximately 60,000 years old. This new find from Australia suggests that there may be older remains yet to be found in SEA.

The time of arrival of people in Australia is an unresolved question. It is relevant to debates about when modern humans first dispersed out of Africa and when their descendants incorporated genetic material from Neanderthals, Denisovans and possibly other hominins. Humans have also been implicated in the extinction of Australia’s megafauna. Here we report the results of new excavations conducted at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in northern Australia. Artefacts in primary depositional context are concentrated in three dense bands, with the stratigraphic integrity of the deposit demonstrated by artefact refits and by optical dating and other analyses of the sediments. Human occupation began around 65,000 years ago, with a distinctive stone tool assemblage including grinding stones, ground ochres, reflective additives and ground-edge hatchet heads. This evidence sets a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia, the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, and the subsequent interactions of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Source: Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago : Nature : Nature Research

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