Early Modern Humans in Island Southeast Asia and Sahul: Adaptive and Creative Societies with Simple Lithic Industries

Jane Balme, Susan O'Connor

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    There is some debate about the timing of the first occupation of Sahul (Australia, New Guinea and the Aru Islands); however most would agree that the continent was colonised before 45 ka (Bowler et al. 2003) and perhaps as early as 60 ka (Roberts et al. 1994; Gillespie 2002; Veth et al. 2009). People were occupying inland high altitude sites in New Guinea by 45 ka and had reached the far southwest of Sahul (see Summerhayes et al. 2010 for mainland Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Turney et al. 2001a for southwest Australia) before 40,000 years ago. By 35 ka humans had successfully spread into the southern extremes of Tasmania (Cosgrove 1999) and even the very small islands of Southeast Asia (such as the Talauds), and also colonised the arid inland regions of continental Sahul (Figure13.1).However, the tool kits associated with this evidence for rapid adaptation to very dif erent environments continue to be remarked upon as simple and unchanging in comparison to tool kits of similar antiquity in the Old World. For example, Klein (2009, 716–717) describes Australian stone tools as. a loosely defined Core-Tool-and-Scraper Tradition that persisted basically unchanged until roughly 4 ka. Similar artifacts occur widely in southeast Asia in late Pleistocene and early Holocene deposits, and where they are found alone, the behavioural modernity of the makers can be questioned. However, at several Australian sites the flaked stones are accompanied by such advanced behavioural markers as formal bone artifacts. The implication here is that before the mid-Holocene, Australian stone artefacts were so simple that, were it not for the presence of other kinds of archaeological materials, they could be interpreted as not being the work of modern humans. This view of an unchanging 'primitive' undifferentiated stone technology (see also White 1977) lies deep in the history of archaeological research in Australia. Here we review the history of ideas relating to the tools used by the early colonists in this southern region and discuss the ways in which these ideas are now being overturned by an increasing recognition of the variety of stone artefacts, the role of organic tools and 'intangible technology'.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationSouthern Asia, Australia and the Search for Human Origins
    Editors Robin Dennell and Martin Porr
    Place of PublicationNew York, USA
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    ISBN (Print)9781107017856
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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