When did Homo sapiens first reach Southeast Asia and Sahul?

Research Highlight

Archaeologists tricked by sinking stone tools

© Rafael Ben-Ari/Getty

© Rafael Ben-Ari/Getty

The arrival of modern humans to Australia should be brought forward 15,000 years, a review of existing evidence finds.

Modern humans (Homo sapiens) wended their way out of Africa into Europe between 50 and 55 thousand years ago (kya), but some studies suggest an earlier eastward spread, with H. sapiens landing in Australia 65 kya.

Now, a team that included researchers from the University of Adelaide has reviewed all studies dating H. sapiens remains and artefacts from sites around Southeast Asia and northern Australia, including the now disputed 65 kya Madjedbebe site. The researchers found that most evidence supports the 55 kya arrival in the region, but suggest that the Madjedbebe date is an anomaly caused by the artefacts sinking into older layers of sand.

Accurate dating and genetic analysis of the fossil record itself, which is often too fragmented to identify species by bone shape alone, would provide more precise answers than the dating of tools and sediments.

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  1. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 115, 8482–8490 (2018). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1808385115
Institutions Share
The University of Adelaide (Adelaide Uni), Australia 0.24
University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney), Australia 0.17
The University of Utah (Utah), United States of America (USA) 0.11
La Trobe University, Australia 0.11
Australian National University (ANU), Australia 0.11
Extent Heritage Pty Ltd, Australia 0.06
Flinders University, Australia 0.06
Defence Science and Technology Group (DST), Australia 0.04
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Australia 0.04
CSIRO Land and Water, Australia 0.04
Charles Darwin University (CDU), Australia 0.04