New archaeological evidence states that the earliest human occupation of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is older than thought. It is older than 100,000 years, which is 60,000 years older than previously thought.
A research team, led by the University of Wollongong, reported, in the Nature magazine, that the existence of stone artefacts on Sulawesi dated to more than 100,000 years using the latest generation of luminescence dating technique for feldspars minerals.
Findings suggest that Sulawesi, like Flores, was host to a long-established population of archaic hominins, the ancestral origins and taxonomic status of which remain elusive.
Sulawesi is the largest and oldest island within Wallacea, a vast zone of oceanic islands separating continental Asia from the Pleistocene landmass of Australia and Papua (Sahul). By one million years ago an unknown hominin lineage had colonized Flores immediately to the south, and by about 50 thousand years ago, modern humans (Homo sapiens) had crossed to Sahul.
On the basis of position, oceanic currents and biogeographical context, Sulawesi probably played a pivotal part in these dispersals. Uranium-series dating of speleothem deposits associated with rock art in the limestone karst region of Maros in southwest Sulawesi has revealed that humans were living on the island at least 40 thousand years ago.
New excavations at Talepu in the Walanae Basin northeast of Maros, where in situ stone artefacts associated with fossil remains of megafauna (Bubalus sp., Stegodon and Celebochoerus) have been recovered from stratified deposits that accumulated from before 200 thousand years ago until about 100 thousand years ago.
The species of human that made the stone tools remains an enigma, as no human fossils have been found at Talepu. But the old ages suggest that the toolmakers were either an archaic lineage of humans or, more controversially, some of earliest modern humans to reach Southeast Asia and perhaps the ancestors of the first people to arrive in Australia.