[Paper] Rare Late Pleistocene-early Holocene human mandibles from the Niah Caves (Sarawak, Borneo)

New paper in PLOS One describing mandibles from the Niah Caves – these were excavated by the Harrissons in 1957.

Rare Late Pleistocene-early Holocene human mandibles from the Niah Caves (Sarawak, Borneo)
Darren Curnoe, Ipoi Datan, Jian-xin Zhao, Charles Leh Moi Ung, Maxime Aubert, Mohammed S. Sauffi, Goh Hsiao Mei, Raynold Mendoza, Paul S. C. Taçon

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.

Source: Rare Late Pleistocene-early Holocene human mandibles from the Niah Caves (Sarawak, Borneo)

How the Banjar people of Borneo became ancestors of the Malagasy and Comorian people

via The Conversation, 07 March 2018:

This research reconciled data and hypotheses from linguistic, archeological and genetic research on the settlement of the Comoros and Madagascar.

Source: How the Banjar people of Borneo became ancestors of the Malagasy and Comorian people

Over 400 Bornean ethnographic artifacts in Holland to come home soon

via Borneo Post, 25 November 2017:

KUCHING: More than 400 Bornean ethnographic artifacts will be returned to Sarawak Museum from a museum in the City of Delft in the Netherlands. The artifacts were symbolically handed over by Delft …

Source: Over 400 Bornean ethnographic artifacts in Holland to come home soon

Follow Darren Curnoe on his Niah Caves excavation

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.

Source: Darren Curnoe – Anthropologist

Sarawak Museum to close for two and a half years for conservation works

via Borneo Post, 21 September 2017

KUCHING: The Sarawak Museum will be temporarily closed from Oct 23 onwards for a period of two and a half years. Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said the temporary closure was …

Source: Sarawak Museum to close for two and a half years for conservation works – BorneoPost Online | Borneo , Malaysia, Sarawak Daily News | Largest English Daily In Borneo

The archaeological potential of East Kalimantan

Nat Geo has a feature on the French team working on the limstone karsts of the Sangkulirang Peninsula in Indonesian Borneo. Their finds from the last seven years are very promising, but development, mining and burning threatens all of that.

Karsts in Borneo. Source: National Geographic 20151111
Karsts in Borneo. Source: National Geographic 20151111

A Race to Save Ancient Human Secrets in Borneo
National Geographic, 11 November 2015

If you wanted to create a new UNESCO World Heritage Site, you might well look to the limestone landscape, or karst, on the Sangkulirang Peninsula in eastern Borneo. There, in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan, you could cite the abundance of human and natural riches to justify your proposal.

For seven years, archaeologist Francois-Xavier Ricaut, from the University of Toulouse, and his French-Indonesian team, MAFBO (Mission Archéologique Franco-Indonésienne à Bornéo), have been excavating three sites in the Sangkulirang-Mangkalihat karst, which spans 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares).

In the karst, thick tropical forest shrouds weathered limestone spires, making it hard to get around, let alone do science. As a result, Ricaut says, “hardly any archaeological work has been done in this karst—we’re just beginning.”

After dogged sleuthing, Ricaut and his colleagues have found bones and charcoal that date back 35,000 years, the earliest such evidence of human occupation yet found in Kalimantan.

Full story here.

More news stories from the Sulawesi rock art

Indexing more stories from last week’s announcement of the 40,000-year-old rock art from Sulawesi.

Q&A: Cave Art Older, More Widespread Than Thought, Archaeologist Says
National Geographic News, 10 October 2014

Asian cave paintings challenge Europe as cradle of art
AFP, via Bangkok Post, 09 October 2014

35,000 year-old Indonesian cave paintings suggest art came out of Africa
The Guardian, 09 October 2014

Rock (Art) of Ages: Indonesian Cave Paintings Are 40,000 Years Old
Smithsonian, 08 October 2014

Cave Paintings in Indonesia May Be Among the Oldest Known
New York Times, 08 October 2014

Scientists locate world’s oldest rock art
UPI, 08 October 2014

40,000 year old rock art from Sulawesi

I’ve been waiting excitedly for this paper to be published! A new paper out in Nature presents new rock art dates from hand stencils in Sulawesi, with a whopper of a date: 40,000 years old! For those keeping score, that’s as old as the Palaeolithic rock art in Europe. These dates were derived using uranium-series dating, which is a method for dating calcium carbonate and thus a great way for dating rock art in limestone contexts where there’s mineral accretions over paintings.

Personally, the age of the dates isn’t all that surprising – having worked at a number of rock art sites in SEA one gets the impression that some of them are really old. There aren’t many dates for rock art in Southeast Asia because rock art is quite hard to date in of itself. But the few attempts to date rock art in SEA tend to suggest that some rock art is very old indeed: another u-series rock art from East Timor dates to no later than 6,300 years old (with a possible earlier layer of about 22,000 years). On the mainland we have estimates of rock art ages from associated finds at Padalin Caves that go back to 7,000 – 13,000 years.

For me, the big significance of this date is that this is a rock art site in Sulawesi, in Island Southeast Asia. This suggests that some rock art in Mainland Southeast Asia would be of comparable age, if not older: in the paper the authors suggest that “it is possible that an extensive
archive of rock art may yet survive from the initial modern human colonization of Australia and Southeast Asia”. I hope this paper also starts to upend a lot of the Eurocentrism inherent in world rock art literature – the painted caves of France and Spain are majestic and old, to be sure, but there are other old corpuses of art out there that need to be studied further. The rock art from Sulawesi is not a new discovery – its existence has been known for decades, but the new age determination adds a whole new dimension to the field.  Congrats to Max Aubert and team for this great paper!

Hand stencil from Borneo
Hand stencil from Borneo

Pleistocene cave art from Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Nature, doi 10.1038/nature13422.
Aubert, M., Brumm, A., Ramli, M., Sutikna, T,. Saptomo, E. W., Hakim, B, Morwood, M. J., D. van
den Bergh. G., Kinsley, L., Dosseto. A.

40,000 year old rock art found in Indonesia
The Conversation, 09 October 2014

Ancient Indonesian rock art rewrites art history
ABC News, 09 October 2014

World’s oldest art found in Indonesian cave
Nature News, 08 October 2014

Indonesian Cave Paintings As Old As Europe’s Ancient Art
NPR, 08 October 2014

Cave paintings change ideas about the origin of art
BBC NEws, 08 October 2014

First-Known Painting Depicts Rare, Hefty Animal
Discover News, 08 October 2014

Prehistoric paintings suggest Indonesians began making art 40,000 years ago
Reuters, via Raw Story, 08 October 2014

Prehistoric Paintings in Indonesia May Be Oldest Cave Art Ever
Live Science, 08 October 2014

Indonesian cave art may be world’s oldest
Science News, 08 October 2014

Indonesian cave art: oldest hand ‘stencil’ yet discovered
Christian Science Monitor, 08 October 2014

Cave Paintings in Indonesia Redraw Picture of Earliest Art
National Geographic News, 08 October 2014

Prehistoric Cave Art Discovered in the Tropics
Discover, 08 October 2014
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