This paper summarises research on obsidian findings across the region of Island Southeast Asia (ISEA), from the first reporting of obsidian on Sumatra as a result of cave excavations in the early 1900s through to the latest published discoveries in 2009. These results are the background for the first region-wide research project focussing on obsidian characterisation and its role in prehistoric inter-island exchange. It is commonly held that distribution of obsidian in ISEA was only localised and inter-island transportation limited. The review, however, suggests that this hypothesis derives from an incomplete knowledge of obsidian distribution in the region rather than typifying prehistoric social patterns. Obsidian sourcing has been carried out only intermittently in ISEA since the 1970s and has generally been focussed only at the single site level, thus explaining this very partial understanding.