Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ancient stone artifacts discovered on Sulawesi

Interesting piece by Michael Greshko (Stone Tools Point to Mysterious Neighbor of Flores ‘Hobbit’) in National Geographic reporting on the latest archaeological work on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Stone tools found there appear to predate the arrival of modern humans to the area by more than 60,000 years
The perplexing artifacts, announced on Wednesday in Nature, are most likely between 118,000 and 194,000 years old, though some may be even older. The keen-edged flakes of stone were excavated from an ancient river floodplain in southwest Sulawesi, near the present-day village of Talepu. Some even bear telltale signs of being hammered into shape.But today’s best evidence indicates that modern Homo sapiens didn’t arrive on neighboring islands until about 50,000 years ago, well after the mysterious toolmakers left their wares behind. The find further indicates that some earlier form of human was more successful at traversing the south Pacific’s island networks than previously believed.
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Gerrit van den Bergh of the University of Wollongong in Australia, the study’s lead author, says that the tools likely were made by Homo erectus, an ancient hominin that lived on nearby islands beginning at least 1.5 million years ago. It’s also possible that the toolmakers are yet-undiscovered relatives of Homo floresiensis, a “hobbit” hominin found on the island of Flores, just south of Sulawesi, between 18,000 and 95,000 years ago, if not earlier.
This discovery is the latest of many that has been dramatically transforming our understanding of the more distant human past. In time, these discoveries are likely to affect our interpretation of Aboriginal prehistory.

Recent discoveries on Barrow Island now off the West Australian coast appear to have pushed the confirmed date for Aboriginal occupation of Australia to between 50,000 and 53,000 years ago. The issue then becomes how the Aborigines fitted into a pattern of human dispersal that was far more complex than that realised even a decade ago.

Postscript

I wrote a slightly longer muse piece on my personal blog. The Sulawesi discoveries: where does Australian prehistory fit? John Hawks had a useful perspective piece, Somebody was on Sulawesi before 118,000 years ago, while University of New England's Dr Mark Moore who analysed the stone tools recovered from the excavation, reports that the tools were finely crafted with a high degree of skill involved.

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