The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Modern human origins in Southeast Asia: behavioral perspectives


Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai'i at Manoa

March 27, 2015 11:30, Grand Ballroom D Add to calendar

It is generally accepted that modern Homo sapiens were the first hominin group to have peopled Australia sometime after 60 ka, a dispersal that could only have been facilitated by the presence of a “modern” human behavioral toolkit that included watercraft, deep sea fishing gear, hafted weaponry, and perhaps symbolic behavior. Because Southeast (SE) Asia was the likely corridor through which these modern human groups moved, we hypothesize that comparable behavioral evidence around the same time or possibly even a little earlier should be present in SE Asia. The results of our study indicate that: 1) Tabon Cave (Philippines), with deposits dating to between 58 ka and 37 ka, could only have been occupied by humans capable of crossing large bodies of water. 2) The earliest evidence of a broad spectrum diet, hafted weaponry, long-distance import of raw materials and deep sea fishing date between 42 ka and 30 ka and are concentrated at Niah Cave (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo), and Lena Hara Cave and Jerimalei (East Timor). 3) The earliest evidence of symbolic behavior appears between 35 ka and 25 ka in the form of shell beads from Matja Kuru 1 and 2 (East Timor) and Lena Hara and a burial at Moh Khiew (Thailand). By 42 ka, if not a little earlier, at least pieces of the modern human behavioral toolkit that would have facilitated the human dispersal to Australia are present in SE Asia. The broader implications of the Southeast Asian Late Pleistocene human behavioral record are discussed.