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.
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.
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.
A detailed study of DNA of Pacific Islanders finds that their mitochondrial DNA were present in Island Southeast Asia from an earlier period than the so-called Austronesian expansion, and suggests a more complex picture of how humans migrated into the Pacific.
There are two very different interpretations of the prehistory of Island Southeast Asia (ISEA), with genetic evidence invoked in support of both. The “out-of-Taiwan” model proposes a major Late Holocene expansion of Neolithic Austronesian speakers from Taiwan. An alternative, proposing that Late Glacial/postglacial sea-level rises triggered largely autochthonous dispersals, accounts for some otherwise enigmatic genetic patterns, but fails to explain the Austronesian language dispersal. Combining mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Y-chromosome and genome-wide data, we performed the most comprehensive analysis of the region to date, obtaining highly consistent results across all three systems and allowing us to reconcile the models. We infer a primarily common ancestry for Taiwan/ISEA populations established before the Neolithic, but also detected clear signals of two minor Late Holocene migrations, probably representing Neolithic input from both Mainland Southeast Asia and South China, via Taiwan. This latter may therefore have mediated the Austronesian language dispersal, implying small-scale migration and language shift rather than large-scale expansion.
With a cultural and linguistic origin in Island Southeast Asia the Lapita expansion is thought to have led ultimately to the Polynesian settlement of the east Polynesian region after a time of mixing/integration in north Melanesia and a nearly 2,000-y pause in West Polynesia. One of the major achievements of recent Lapita research in Vanuatu has been the discovery of the oldest cemetery found so far in the Pacific at Teouma on the south coast of Efate Island, opening up new prospects for the biological definition of the early settlers of the archipelago and of Remote Oceania in general. Using craniometric evidence from the skeletons in conjunction with archaeological data, we discuss here four debated issues: the Lapita–Asian connection, the degree of admixture, the Lapita–Polynesian connection, and the question of secondary population movement into Remote Oceania.
A recent study published in PLOS One analyses the bones from the Red Deer Cave of Yunnan province and suggests that they may belong to a branch of a archaic form of human, or represent multiple colonisation events in the Pleistocene before the arrival of anatomically modern humans.
Later Pleistocene human evolution in East Asia remains poorly understood owing to a scarcity of well described, reliably classified and accurately dated fossils. Southwest China has been identified from genetic research as a hotspot of human diversity, containing ancient mtDNA and Y-DNA lineages, and has yielded a number of human remains thought to derive from Pleistocene deposits. We have prepared, reconstructed, described and dated a new partial skull from a consolidated sediment block collected in 1979 from the site of Longlin Cave (Guangxi Province). We also undertook new excavations at Maludong (Yunnan Province) to clarify the stratigraphy and dating of a large sample of mostly undescribed human remains from the site.
We undertook a detailed comparison of cranial, including a virtual endocast for the Maludong calotte, mandibular and dental remains from these two localities. Both samples probably derive from the same population, exhibiting an unusual mixture of modern human traits, characters probably plesiomorphic for later Homo, and some unusual features. We dated charcoal with AMS radiocarbon dating and speleothem with the Uranium-series technique and the results show both samples to be from the Pleistocene-Holocene transition: ∼14.3-11.5 ka.
Our analysis suggests two plausible explanations for the morphology sampled at Longlin Cave and Maludong. First, it may represent a late-surviving archaic population, perhaps paralleling the situation seen in North Africa as indicated by remains from Dar-es-Soltane and Temara, and maybe also in southern China at Zhirendong. Alternatively, East Asia may have been colonised during multiple waves during the Pleistocene, with the Longlin-Maludong morphology possibly reflecting deep population substructure in Africa prior to modern humans dispersing into Eurasia.
How did anatomically modern humans populate the world? A recent paper in the Journal of Human Evolution analyses the fossil record and concludes that australo-melanesians – ancestors of several indigenous populations including those found in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Australia – were part of the initial migration out of Africa, while other populations dispersed later.
The modern human expansion process out of Africa has important implications for understanding the genetic and phenotypic structure of extant populations. While intensely debated, the primary hypotheses focus on either a single dispersal or multiple dispersals out of the continent. Here, we use the human fossil record from Africa and the Levant, as well as an exceptionally large dataset of Holocene human crania sampled from Asia, to model ancestor–descendant relationships along hypothetical dispersal routes. We test the spatial and temporal predictions of competing out-of-Africa models by assessing the correlation of geographical distances between populations and measures of population differentiation derived from quantitative cranial phenotype data. Our results support a model in which extant Australo-Melanesians are descendants of an initial dispersal out of Africa by early anatomically modern humans, while all other populations are descendants of a later migration wave. Our results have implications for understanding the complexity of modern human origins and diversity.
A recent study in Scientific Reports pinpoints Myanmar as a region for the dispersal of human populations into East Asia, probably through river valleys. The comparison of DNA between populations of both regions further suggest the presence of an inland route (rather than just coastal) that modern humans took in populating East Asia.
Given the existence of plenty of river valleys connecting Southeast and East Asia, it is possible that some inland route(s) might have been adopted by the initial settlers to migrate into the interior of East Asia. Here we analyzed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) HVS variants of 845 newly collected individuals from 14 Myanmar populations and 5,907 published individuals from 115 populations from Myanmar and its surroundings. Enrichment of basal lineages with the highest genetic diversity in Myanmar suggests that Myanmar was likely one of the differentiation centers of the early modern humans. Intriguingly, some haplogroups were shared merely between Myanmar and southwestern China, hinting certain genetic connection between both regions. Further analyses revealed that such connection was in fact attributed to both recent gene flow and certain ancient dispersals from Myanmar to southwestern China during 25–10 kya, suggesting that, besides the coastal route, the early modern humans also adopted an inland dispersal route to populate the interior of East Asia..
A find from China that may have some bearing on Southeast Asia – 4,000-year-old wheat and millet have been found in Yunnan province , further south than originally thought. While the study has yet to be published, the find raises interesting questions about the movement of people from China down and through to mainland Southeast Asia in the Neolithic and the Bronze Age.