via IntechOpen, 28 November 2023: Open access chapter by Boulanger reviews the maritime adaptation of Homo sapiens in Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) during the late Pleistocene to mid-Holocene reveals a sophisticated coastal adaptation. This adaptation included specialized fishing techniques, possible boat-building, and the development of unique tools for marine life, signifying not only advanced cognitive skills but also a significant step in human evolution. These findings, encompassing various Paleolithic sites across ISEA, showcase the intricate relationship between early humans and their coastal environments, highlighting their ability to thrive in these challenging settings.
Homo sapiens’ cognitive skills played a significant role in their ability to adapt to various environments as they migrated out of Africa during the late Middle Pleistocene. Among these environments, marine ecosystems are believed to have been crucial for sustenance. Around 50,000 years ago, as H. sapiens dispersed from Asia to Australia, they embarked on what is considered the first significant phase of maritime adaptation in human history, requiring them to undertake open-water journeys through the islands of Southeast Asia. However, despite our knowledge of their nautical skills, direct evidence of open-sea navigation has yet to be conclusively discovered. In this context, we review the findings obtained from the study of ichthyoarchaeological remains at multiple sites dating from the late Pleistocene to the mid-Holocene in the Philippines, the Lesser Sunda Islands, and Okinawa. Across all the sites, fishing activities were primarily limited to the shoreline or near-coast areas, with the development of techniques tailored to the specific surrounding environments. This suggests that the management of marine resources was efficient, rendering offshore fishing potentially unnecessary and risky. However, such specialization would have required the development of sophisticated technologies and a robust intergenerational cultural transmission.