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.
Could this skull rewrite human history? 37,000-year-old cranium found in Borneo may be evidence that ancient Aborigines were not the first to settle in Pacific island
Daily Mail, 27 June 2016
The Deep Skull from Niah Cave in Sarawak (Malaysia) is the oldest anatomically modern human recovered from island Southeast Asia. For more than 50 years its relevance to tracing the prehistory of the region has been controversial. The most widely held view, originating with Brothwell’s 1960 description and analysis, is that the Niah individual is related to Indigenous Australians. Here we undertake a new assessment of the Deep Skull and consider its bearing on this question. In doing so, we provide a new and comprehensive description of the cranium including a reassessment of its ontogenetic age, sex, morphology, and affinities. We conclude that this individual was most likely to have been of advanced age and female, rather than an adolescent male as originally proposed. The morphological evidence strongly suggests that the Deep Skull samples the earliest modern humans to have settled Borneo, most likely originating on mainland East Asia. We also show that the affinities of the specimen are most likely to be with the contemporary indigenous people of Borneo, although, similarities to the population sometimes referred to as Philippine Negritos cannot be excluded. Finally, our research suggests that the widely supported “two-layer” hypothesis for the Pleistocene peopling of East/Southeast Asia is unlikely to apply to the earliest inhabitants of Borneo, in-line with the picture emerging from genetic studies of the contemporary people from the region.
Nicholas Gani Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
It’s a photo of Lindsay Lloyd-Smith and I trying to capture a ‘perfect’ plan shot of the excavation trench at the Perupun Arur Ritan stone mound site in the village of Pa Lungan in the Kelabit Highlands of Sarawak. Part of our work in this year’s Early Central Borneo project, which just ended last week.
The state of Sarawak is setting up a special budget to help document the relics and history of World War II in the state, particularly in the interior where access can be a problem. However, the article makes it sound as if the senior citizens are the ones being called the relics!
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.
The Borneo Archaeology Seminar just concluded in Miri yesterday. I was hoping to attend to listen to a couple of rock art papers, but other work kept me busy. The media coverage from the seminar is focused on the speech by the Chief Minister of Sarawak, who suggested that the burials that were removed from the Niah Caves (now residing outside of the country) should be returned, but not before there are adequate facilities in the Sarawak Museum to house them. There was also a suggestion to nominate Niah as a Unesco World Heritage Site. We shall see in the coming years how these develop!