25,000-year-old human jawbone discovered in Indonesia is oldest human remains found in Wallacea


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An international group of researchers published a study in the journal PLOS ONE this week announcing the discovery of an ancient human jawbone in a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi that could help unravel the mystery of how ‘Homo sapiens’ came to Australia from Asia.

25,000-year-old human jawbone discovered in Indonesia is oldest human remains found in Wallacea
Homo sapien jawbone found on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia
[Credit: Brumm et al., 2021]

The individual to whom the jaw belonged was old and in poor dental health. All but the molars were missing and, although the others may have fallen out after death, none were recovered during excavations.

According to the authors of the study, it is possible that the individual was part of the population responsible for one of the oldest known rock art traditions in the world.

“The first modern humans to arrive in Sulawesi produced some of the oldest known dated rock art, but little is known about the origin and cultural life of these late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers,” wrote the researchers, who add that the mandible is the first fossilised evidence of modern Pleistocene human remains found on the island and ”its unusual dental wear and oral pathology offer tantalising clues about how they adapted to their tropical rainforest environment”.

25,000-year-old human jawbone discovered in Indonesia is oldest human remains found in Wallacea
Excavated trench at Leang Bulu Bettue; an overview of the trench in the rock-shelter
area viewed from south to north (2017) [Credit: Brumm et al., 2021]

Furthermore, Sulawesi is part of a geographical transition zone called Wallacea, which during the last ice age (when global sea levels fell) served as a natural bridge between Southeast Asia and Australia.

According to the researchers, the discovery of ‘Homo sapiens’ remains in Celebes could help the scientific community understand exactly how our ancestors first arrived in Oceania. The authors of the study argue that ‘Homo sapiens’ and Denisovans (ancestors of today’s indigenous Australians and Papuans) probably entered the Wallacea region around 65,000 years ago from Eurasia and then crossed this now defunct land bridge to Australia.

However, the researchers conclude that much more fieldwork was still needed to determine exactly which of the various theories of ‘Homo sapiens’ expansion into this area of the planet is correct.

Source: RT [September 30, 2021]

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