via The Past, 15 January 2022: A small feature on human evolution and migration in prehistory through the lens of recent research. One paper from a burial in Sulawesi is featured.
The island of Sulawesi has produced many significant insights into early human activity in Indonesia, including the world’s oldest piece of representational rock art, dating to at least 45,500 years ago (see CWA 106), but the discovery of a fragment of human jawbone in Leang Bulu Bettue cave in south-western Sulawesi represents the first human skeletal remains from the Pleistocene period found on the island. Although modern humans are thought to have arrived in the region by 70-50,000 years ago, there are currently only a few Late Pleistocene sites attributed to Homo sapiens in Indonesia, and fossil evidence of their presence is also very rare.
The Leang Bulu Bettue fossil, which was found during excavations in 2017, has now been dated to between 24,800 and 16,000 years ago using material from the sediment layer in which it was found, including isotope analysis of stalagmites, radiocarbon dating of shells, laser ablation of a pig tooth, and optical dating of feldspar grains.
The right maxilla (below) is so fragmentary that archaeologists could not discover much about this individual beyond the fact that they were an adult, and that they had fairly poor oral health. However, the surviving teeth do exhibit unusual dental wear that may potentially be related to a nondietary use such as the production of twine from palm fronds. Despite its fragile nature, the discovery offers the first direct fossil insight into how early H sapiens on Sulawesi interacted with their environment at this time.