The skeletal remains of Late Pleistocene-early Holocene humans are exceptionally rare in island Southeast Asia. As a result, the identity and physical adaptations of the early inhabitants of the region are poorly known. One archaeological locality that has historically been important for understanding the peopling of island Southeast Asia is the Niah Caves in the northeast of Borneo. Here we present the results of direct Uranium-series dating and the first published descriptions of three partial human mandibles from the West Mouth of the Niah Caves recovered during excavations by the Harrissons in 1957. One of them (mandible E/B1 100″) is somewhat younger than the ‘Deep Skull’ with a best dating estimate of c30-28 ka (at 2σ), while the other two mandibles (D/N5 42–48″ and E/W 33 24–36″) are dated to a minimum of c11.0–10.5 ka (at 2σ) and c10.0–9.0 ka (at 2σ). Jaw E/B1 100″ is unusually small and robust compared with other Late Pleistocene mandibles suggesting that it may have been ontogenetically altered through masticatory strain under a model of phenotypic plasticity. Possible dietary causes could include the consumption of tough or dried meats or palm plants, behaviours which have been documented previously in the archaeological record of the Niah Caves. Our work suggests a long history back to before the LGM of economic strategies involving the exploitation of raw plant foods or perhaps dried and stored meat resources. This offers new insights into the economic strategies of Late Pleistocene-early Holocene hunter-gatherers living in, or adjacent to, tropical rainforests.
FURTHER studies and researches are being conducted to determine if the first human civilisation in Southeast Asia started from Sarawak’s very own background, which is the Niah Caves tucked within Miri division.
Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales is on his three-week excavation of the Niah Caves in Sarawak and he will be tweeting and broadcasting his experiences on Facebook Live. You can follow his progress here:
Darren Curnoe – Anthropologist. 80 likes. Biological anthropologist and archaeologist with an insatiable curiosity about the kind of creature we are and how we came to be this way.
The Sarawak Museum announced a plan to repatriate a set of bones from the Niah Cave that were placed in the custody of the University of Nevada, Los Vegas (the article writes Los Angeles?) in the 1960s.
The Niah Caves in Sarawak, where one of the oldest anatomically modern human remains in Southeast Asia was found (approx 40,000 years old), has been put up by the Malaysian government for nomination as a World Heritage site.
As expected, most of the Malaysian papers carried reports about yesterday’s press conference on the excavation of six skeletons from Gua Kain Hitam in Sarawak and Pulau Kelumpang in Perak. You can read my account here.
Proof of Neolithic presence
New Straits Times, 19 September 2008
Archaeologists discover Neolithic-era skeletons
The Star, 18 September 2008
Prehistoric human remains found in Perak, Sarawak
The Sun, 18 September 2008