Archaeological discoveries in Timor challenge early human migration theories

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23rd May 2024 – (Canberra) Australian researchers have made significant archaeological discoveries in a cave on Timor Island, prompting a reassessment of early human migration patterns through Southeast Asia. The findings, published in a study on Wednesday, involve the dating and analysis of thousands of stone artifacts and animal bones unearthed at the Laili rock shelter in northern Timor-Leste.

Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Center of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, the study reveals that human occupation of Timor Island began approximately 44,000 years ago. This challenges the previously held belief that Timor Island served as a stepping stone for the initial human migration from Southeast Asia to Australia and New Guinea.

According to Sue O’Connor, co-author of the study from the Australian National University (ANU), the absence of earlier human presence on Timor Island suggests that these early humans arrived later than previously believed. O’Connor stated in a media release, “This provides further evidence to suggest early humans were making the crossing to Australia using the stepping stone island of New Guinea, rather than Timor Island as researchers had previously suggested.”

The excavation at the Laili rock shelter yielded a multitude of small stone tools and fish bones, shedding light on the activities and dietary preferences of early inhabitants. Co-author Shimona Kealy, from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, emphasized that the large number of artifacts discovered indicates a significant migration of early humans to Timor Island, likely originating from nearby Flores Island and mainland Southeast Asia.