Category Archives: INDONESIA

7,200-year-old skeleton unearthed in Indonesia reveals an unknown human group

7,200-year-old skeleton unearthed in Indonesia reveals unknown human group

The ancient remains of a hunter-gatherer girl who died over 7,000 years ago in Indonesia, has revealed clues to a mysterious group of humans from the past. The discovery, made in 2015, in the Leang Panninge cave on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island is the first discovery of ancient human DNA in the region, known as Wallacea.

In a study published, Griffith University archaeology professor and study co-author Adam Brumm said the girl, nicknamed Bessé,’ belonged to a mysterious group of modern humans from the Holocene era who archaeologists have named the Toaleans.

It is the first time an intact skeleton of the Toalean people had been found.

“We’ve got ancient DNA from the bones of this woman, but we could only reconstruct about 2 per cent of her complete genome,” Brumm told the ABC. “So that’s how degraded it was and it took a lot of work to get even that.”

Sulawesi is the largest island in Wallacea. White shaded areas represent landmasses exposed during periods of lower sea level in the Late Pleistocene.
Burial of the hunter-gatherer Toalean woman.

Through DNA analysis, archaeologists have confirmed a theory that the Toaleans were related to the first humans who lived in Wallacea around 65,000 years ago and could also tie the girl to the Aboriginal Australians and Papuans.

Half of Bessé’s genome is shared with present-day Aboriginals, Papuans, and Western Pacific Islander peoples. She was also partly related to the older human ancestors the Denisovans, whose remains have been found in Tibet and Siberia.

Further analysis found that Bessé’ also had strong genetic ties to an ancient Asian group of people who did not mingle with the ancestors of Aboriginals and Papuans.

“A really unexpected discovery is that within the DNA of this ancient woman, we found ancestry from a very ancient Asian population,” Brumm said. “We don’t know quite who they were.”

Excavations at Leang Panninge cave.

Prof. Akin Duli from the University of Hasanuddin said this meant the population and genetic history of early humans in the region were more complex than previously thought.

“It is unlikely we will know much about the identity of these early ancestors of the Toaleans until more ancient human DNA samples are available from Wallacea,” Duli said.

However, finding more preserved remains, like Bessé’s, is extremely difficult given the tropical, humid weather of the region.

Just two other DNA samples have been found in the whole region and they come from Laos and Malaysia.

Bessé’ has no relation to the present-day people of Sulawesi, which is unsurprising given they are known to be largely descended from people who came from the Taiwanese region 3,500 years ago.

The Toaleans have been a century-old archaeological mystery since the discovery of unique, finely crafted arrowheads in several southern Sulawesi caves in 1902.

Undated Toalean stone arrowheads, backed microliths, and bone projectile points.

Intact DNA from a 7,200-year-old Woman reveals Unknown Human lineage

Intact DNA from a 7,200-year-old Woman reveals Unknown Human lineage

Archaeologists have discovered ancient DNA in the remains of a woman who died 7,200 years ago in Indonesia, a find that challenges what was previously known about the migration of early humans.

Intact DNA from a 7,200-year-old Woman reveals Unknown Human lineage
The skeletal remains of the ancient Toalean woman were found nestled among large rocks in a burial pit in Indonesia’s Leang Panninge cave.

The remains, belonging to a teenager nicknamed Bessé, were discovered in the Leang Panninge cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Initial excavations were undertaken in 2015.

The discovery, published in the journal Nature, is believed to be the first time ancient human DNA has been discovered in Wallacea, the vast chain of islands and atolls in the ocean between mainland Asia and Australia.

The DNA was extracted from the petrous part of Bessé’s temporal bone, which houses the inner ear.

Griffith University’s Prof Adam Brumm, who co-led the research, said the intact DNA was a rare find.

“The humid tropics are very unforgiving on DNA preservation in ancient human bones and teeth,” Brumm said.

“There’s only one or two pre-neolithic skeletons that have yielded ancient DNA in all of mainland south-east Asia.

“Elsewhere in the world – in the northern latitudes of Europe, in America – ancient DNA analysis is completely revolutionising our understanding of the early human story: the genetic diversity of ancient humans, population movements, demographic history.”

Initial excavations started in 2015 at the Leang Panninge cave on the island of Sulawesi.

The researchers describe Bessé as a “genetic fossil”. Genetic sequencing showed she had a unique ancestral history not shared by anyone living today, nor any known humans from the ancient past, Brumm said.

Around half of Bessé’s genetic makeup is similar to present-day Indigenous Australians and people from New Guinea and the Western Pacific islands.

“Her ancestors would have been a part of the initial wave of movement of early humans from mainland Asia through these Wallacean islands towards what we today call Sahul, which was the combined ice age landmass of Australia and New Guinea,” Brumm said.

Toalean stone arrowheads. Bessé remains were found alongside prehistoric tools and red ochre.

Surprisingly, Bessé’s DNA also showed an ancient link to east Asia, which challenges what was previously known about the timeline of migration to Wallacea.

“It is thought that the first time people with predominantly Asian ancestry entered the Wallacean region was around about three or four thousand years ago when the first prehistoric neolithic farmers entered the region from Taiwan,” Brumm said.

READ ALSO: THEY REBUILD THE FACES OF EGYPTIAN MUMMIES FROM THEIR 2,000-YEAR-OLD DNA

“If we’re finding this Asian ancestry in a hunter-gatherer person who lived thousands of years before the arrival of these neolithic people from Taiwan, then it suggests … earlier movement of some population from Asia into this region.”

Bessé is also the first known skeleton belonging to the Toalean culture, a group of hunter-gatherers who lived in South Sulawesi between 1,500 and 8,000 years ago.

She was around 17 to 18 years old at the time of burial. Prehistoric stone tools and red ochre were found alongside her remains. Her grave also contained bones of hunted wild animals.

Long-Hidden “Pyramid” Found in Indonesia Was Likely an Ancient Temple

Long-Hidden “Pyramid” Found in Indonesia Was Likely an Ancient Temple

When Dutch colonists became the first Europeans to discover Gunung (Mount) Padang in the early 20th century, they must have been awestruck by the sheer scale of their ancient stone surroundings.

Here, scattered across a vast hilltop in the West Java province of Indonesia, lay the remnants of a massive complex of rocky structures and monuments – an archaeological wonder since described as the largest megalithic site in all of Southeastern Asia.

But those early settlers couldn’t have guessed the greatest wonder of all might lay hidden, buried deep in the ground below their feet.

In controversial new research presented at the AGU 2018 Fall Meeting in Washington, DC, last week, a team of Indonesian scientists presented data to make their case that Gunung Padang is in fact the site of the world’s oldest known pyramid-like structure.

Their research, which has been conducted over the course of several years, suggests that Gunung Padang is not the hill we think it is – but is actually a layered series of ancient structures with foundations dating back some 10,000 years (or even older).

“Our studies prove that the structure does not cover just the top but also wrap around the slopes covering about 15 hectares area at least,” the authors write in the abstract for their new poster.

“The structures are not only superficial but rooted into greater depth.”

Using a combination of surveying methods – including ground penetration radar (GPR), seismic tomography, and archaeological excavations – the team says Gunung Padang is not just an artificial structure, but a series of several layers built over consecutive prehistoric periods.

The topmost, megalithic layer made up of rock columns, walls, paths, and spaces sit above a second layer some 1-3 metres below the surface.

The researchers suggest this second layer has previously been misinterpreted as natural rock formation but is actually another arrangement of columnar rocks organised in a matrix structure.

Below this, the third layer of arranged rocks – containing large underground cavities or chambers – extends as far as 15 metres deep, and this sits upon the lowest (fourth) layer, made of ‘lava tongue’ basalt rock, somehow modified or carved by human hands.

According to the researchers, preliminary radiocarbon dating suggests the first layer could be up to approximately 3,500 old years old, the second layer somewhere around 8,000 years old, and the third layer in the vicinity of 9,500 to 28,000 years old.

As for the purpose of these ancient, vast structures, the researchers – led by geophysicist Danny Hilman Natawidjaja from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences – suggest the ancient pyramid could have had a religious basis.

“It’s a unique temple,” Natawidjaja told Live Science.

For now, that’s speculation, but if the researchers’ other claims about the structures turn out to be right, it’s a major finding that could challenge notions of what prehistoric societies were capable of.

‘It’s huge,” Natawidjaja told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2013. ”People think the prehistoric age was primitive, but this monument proves that wrong.”

Still, not everybody is convinced. Natawidjaja’s research has been the subject of much controversy in Indonesia and elsewhere, with a large number of archaeologists and sceptics criticising the team’s methods and findings.

The latest research presentations – which, for now, remain non-peer-reviewed – will probably add fuel to the fire, but they also give the world a closer glimpse at what could be one of the world’s most ancient and mysterious structures.

As for what that structure really is, only time will tell.

Fishermen discover treasure trove, possibly from Lost Island of Gold

Fishermen discover treasure trove, possibly from Lost Island of Gold

The site of a fabled Indonesian kingdom renowned for its golden treasures may finally have been discovered on Sumatra, known as the Island of Gold. For the past five years, fishermen exploring the crocodile-infested Musi River, near Palembang, have hauled a staggering treasure trove from the depths – including gemstones, gold ceremonial rings, coins and bronze monks’ bells.

One of the most incredible finds so far is a jewel-encrusted life-size statue of Buddha from the 8th century, which is worth millions of pounds.  The artefacts date back to the Srivijaya civilisation – a powerful kingdom between the 7th and 13th centuries which mysteriously vanished a century later. 

Dr Sean Kingsley, a British maritime archaeologist, told MailOnline: ‘Great explorers have hunted high and low for Srivijaya as far afield as Thailand and India, all with no luck. Even at Palembang, the traditional location of the vanished kingdom, archaeologists failed to turn up enough pottery to boast even a small village. Srivijaya, the last mighty lost kingdom on earth, has jealously guarded its secrets.’

The site of a fabled Indonesian kingdom renowned for its golden treasures may finally have been discovered on Sumatra, known as the Island of Gold. For the past five years, fishermen exploring the Musi River, near Palembang, have hauled a staggering treasure trove from the depths – including this life-size 8th-century AD bronze Buddhist statue, studded with precious gems, and worth millions.
A small gold and gem ring with claws, possibly worn by a sacred bird; right: a 21.5cm buffalo and rider ornament.

He added: ‘In the last five years, extraordinary stuff has been coming up. Coins of all periods, gold and Buddhist statues, gems, all the kinds of things that you might read about in Sinbad the Sailor and think it was made up. It’s actually real.’    

Sumatra was referred to in ancient times as the Island of Gold due to it being rich in gold deposits and natural resources and was an early point of arrival for trade in Southeast Asia.  The sixth and seventh centuries saw a steady increase in Asian maritime trade, with a huge Chinese market opening up.  A growing demand for Buddhist rituals, in particular, led to an increase in the export of Indonesian commodities to China.

Dr Kingsley said: ‘Other than the stunning finds of gold and jewels, the riverbed turned up tons of Chinese coins and even greater loads of sunken ceramics. The pots and pans show what a rainbow people lived at Srivijaya. Goods were imported from India, Persia and masses of the finest tablewares of the age from the great kilns of China. This is the sweet spot when the first blue and white porcelain dishes were made, what would become the best brand in the world.’

He has revealed his research in the autumn issue of Wreckwatch magazine, which he also edits. The Srivijayan study forms part of the 180-page autumn publication which focuses on China and the Maritime Silk Road.

He wrote: ‘From the shallows have surfaced glittering gold and jewels befitting this richest of kingdoms – everything from tools of trade and weapons of war to relics of religion. From the lost temples and places of worship have appeared bronze and gold Buddhist figurines, bronze temple door-knockers bearing the demonic face of Kala, in Hindu legend the mythical head of Rahu who churned the oceans to make an elixir of immortality. 

‘Bronze monks’ bells and gold ceremonial rings are studded with rubies and adorned with four-pronged golden vajra sceptres, the Hindu symbol for the thunderbolt, the deity’s weapon of choice. Exquisite gold sword handles would have graced the sides of royal courtesans, while bronze mirrors and hundreds of gold rings, many stamped with enigmatic letters, figures and symbols, earrings and gold necklace beads resurrect the splendour of a merchant aristocracy going about its daily dealings, stamping shipping manifests, in the palace complex.’

Srivijaya has been described by Dr Kingsley as a ‘Waterworld, with people living on the river.  He believes that when civilisation came to an end, in the 14th century, their ‘wooden houses, palaces and temples all sank along with all their goods’. 

At its height, Srivijaya controlled the arteries of the Maritime Silk Road, a huge market in which local, Chinese and Arab goods were traded.

He said: ‘While the western Mediterranean world was entering the dark ages in the eighth century, one of the world’s greatest kingdoms erupted onto the map of south-east Asia. 

‘For over 300 years, the rulers of Srivijaya mastered the trade routes between the Middle East and imperial China. 

‘Srivijaya became the international crossroads for the finest produce of the age. Its rulers accumulated legendary wealth.’  The size of the population’s kingdom remains unclear.  Dr Kingsley told MailOnline: ‘I’ve not seen any robust stats for the population of Srivijaya. They didn’t do a census sadly. 

‘The travellers of the age say the kingdom was “very numerous”. Chroniclers wrote that Srivijaya had so many islands, nobody knew where its limits ended. The fact that the capital alone had 20,000 soldiers, 1,000 monks and 800 money lenders gives you an idea that the population was impressive. Look at the size of the great pilgrimage centre of Borobudur, which was paid for out of the king of Srivijaya’s golden vaults. 

‘In the 10th century, the population of eastern Java was 3-4 million people. And Java is smaller than Sumatra where Palembang, the capital of Srivijaya, has turned up.  It is also not clear why the kingdom collapsed. Kingsley wonders if it suffered the same fate as Pompeii – the result of a volcanic catastrophe – ‘or did the fast-silting, unruly river swallow the city whole?’, he speculates.

Aside from the night dives carried out by the local fishing crews, there have been no official excavations, which leaves many questions unanswered, the Guardian reported. The artefacts found so far are being sold to antique dealers before they can be properly examined by experts.

‘They are lost to the world. Vast swathes, including a stunning life-size Buddhist statue adorned with precious gems, have been lost to the international antiquities market. 

‘Newly discovered, the story of the rise and fall of Srivijaya is dying anew without being told.’ The research is covered in the autumn issue of Wreckwatch magazine.

Ancient and early modern Palembang on Sumatra was largely built in the water. Srivijaya has been described by Dr Kingsley as a ‘Waterworld, with people living on the river. He believes that when the civilisation came to an end, in the 14th century, their ‘wooden houses, palaces and temples all sank along with all their goods’

18,000 Years Ago, Humans Raised World’s Most Dangerous Bird as Pets: Study

18,000 Years Ago, Humans Raised World’s Most Dangerous Bird as Pets: Study

As early as 18,000 years ago, humans in New Guinea may have collected cassowary eggs near maturity and then raised the birds to adulthood, according to an international team of scientists, who used eggshells to determine the developmental stage of the ancient embryos/chicks when the eggs cracked.

“This behaviour that we are seeing is coming thousands of years before the domestication of the chicken,” said Kristina Douglass, assistant professor of anthropology and African studies, Penn State. “And this is not some small fowl, it is a huge, ornery, flightless bird that can eviscerate you. Most likely the dwarf variety that weighs 20 kilos (44 pounds).”

The researchers report today (Sept. 27) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that “the data presented here may represent the earliest indication of human management of the breeding of an avian taxon anywhere in the world, preceding the early domestication of chicken and geese by several millennia.”

Cassowaries are not chickens; in fact, they bear more resemblance to velociraptors than most domesticated birds. “However, cassowary chicks imprint readily to humans and are easy to maintain and raise up to adult size,” the researchers report.

Imprinting occurs when a newly hatched bird decides that the first thing it sees is its mother. If that first glance happens to catch sight of a human, the bird will follow the human anywhere. According to the researchers, cassowary chicks are still traded as a commodity in New Guinea.

Importance of eggshells

Eggshells are part of the assemblage of many archaeological sites, but according to Douglass, archaeologists do not often study them. The researchers developed a new method to determine how old a chick embryo was when an egg was harvested. They reported this work in a recent issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

A captive, modern adult cassowary.

“I’ve worked on eggshells from archaeological sites for many years,” said Douglass. “I discovered research on turkey eggshells that showed changes in the eggshells over the course of development that was an indication of age. I decided this would be a useful approach.”

The age assignment of the embryos/chicks depends on the 3-dimensional features of the inside of the shell. To develop the method needed to determine the eggs’ developmental age when the shells broke, the researchers used ostrich eggs from a study done to improve ostrich reproduction.

Researchers at the Oudtshoorn Research Farm, part of the Western Cape Government of South Africa, harvested three eggs every day of incubation for 42 days for their study and supplied Douglass and her team with samples from 126 ostrich eggs.

They took four samples from each of these eggs for a total of 504 shell samples, each having a specific age. They created high-resolution, 3D images of the shell samples. By inspecting the inside of these eggs, the researcher created a statistical assessment of what the eggs looked like during stages of incubation.

The researchers then tested their model with modern ostrich and emu eggs of known age. The insides of the eggshells change through development because the developing chicks get calcium from the eggshell. Pits begin to appear in the middle of development.

“It is time-dependent, but a little more complicated,” said Douglass. “We used a combination of 3D imaging, modelling and morphological descriptions.”

The researchers then turned to legacy shell collections from two sites in New Guinea—Yuku and Kiowa. They applied their approach to more than 1,000 fragments of these 18,000- to 6,000-year-old eggs.

“What we found was that a large majority of the eggshells were harvested during late stages,” said Douglass. “The eggshells look very late; the pattern is not random. They were either into eating baluts or they are hatching chicks.”

A balut is a nearly developed embryo chick usually boiled and eaten as street food in parts of Asia. The original archaeologists found no indication of penning for the cassowaries. The few cassowary bones found at sites are only those of the meaty portions—leg and thigh—suggesting these were hunted birds, processed in the wild and only the meatiest parts got hauled home.

“We also looked at burning on the eggshells,” said Douglass. “There are enough samples of late-stage eggshells that do not show burning that we can say they were hatching and not eating them.”

To successfully hatch and raise cassowary chicks, the people would need to know where the nests were, know when the eggs were laid and remove them from the nest just before hatching. Back in the late Pleistocene, according to Douglass, humans were purposefully collecting these eggs and this study suggests people were not just harvesting eggs to eat the contents.

Also working on this project from Penn State were Priyangi Bulathsinhala, assistant teaching professor of statistics; Tim Tighe, assistant research professor, Materials Research Institute; and Andrew L. Mack, grants and contract coordinator, Penn State Altoona.

Others working on the project include Dylan Gaffney, graduate student, University of Cambridge, U.K.; Theresa J. Feo, senior science officer, California Council of Science and Technology; and Megan Spitzer, research assistant; Scott Whittaker, manager, scientific imaging; Helen James, research zoologist and curator of birds; and Torben Rick, curator of North American Archaeology, all at the Natural Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Glenn R. Summerhayes, professor of archaeology, University of Otago, New Zealand; and Zanell Brand, production scientist, Oudtshoorn Research Farm, Elsenburg, Department of Agriculture, Western Cape Government, South Africa, also worked on the project.

DNA of a female hunter-gatherer, buried 7,000 years ago in Indonesia, reveals population history of SE Asia

DNA of a female hunter-gatherer, buried 7,000 years ago in Indonesia, reveals population history of SE Asia

A team of archaeological geneticists has reconstructed the genome of a female hunter-gatherer from the Indonesian archipelago, which sheds significant light on the population history of southeast Asia.

This study reports the first known human genome from Leang Panninge in Wallacea, an oceanic island in the middle of the continental shelves of Sahul and Sunda.

Although anatomically modern humans are posited to have crossed over to Australia from Asia as early as 65,000 years ago, the oldest dated Homo sapiens remains come from only 13,000 years ago.

DNA of a female hunter-gatherer, buried 7,000 years ago in Indonesia, reveals population history of SE Asia
The DNA was sequenced from the petrous bone, a small bone in the ear region of the skull.

One of the reasons is the tropical climate, which decomposes natural tissues quite quickly and is therefore not very conducive to the preservation of any remains. Previously, only two ancient human genomes, one from Laos and another from Malaysia, had been sequenced from southeast Asia.

Hunting gathering is a lifestyle that is associated with the Palaeolithic (3 million years ago to 10,000 years ago) in the archaeological record. This lifestyle was largely replaced by the adoption of agriculture and domestication of animals and plants, widely known as the Neolithic Revolution (10,000 to 8000 years ago). However, some hunter-gatherer groups have managed to survive to the present day and have been the subject of many anthropological inquiries.

Reconstruction of genetic history

The present study employed molecular markers with different modes of inheritance to examine the genetic history of the individual from Leang Panninge.

While nuclear DNA (nrDNA) is biparentally inherited i.e. approximately half coming from the mother and half from the father, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) shows uniparental inheritance i.e. it is inherited exclusively from the mother. Studies targeting more molecular markers than one enables a better reconstruction of the genetic history of a population.

The DNA was sequenced from the petrous bone, a small bone in the ear region of the skull. The petrous, in recent years, has been targeted extensively for ancient DNA for its remarkable preservation of genetic material.

Since there is a paucity of a wide number of ancient individuals, any ancient DNA study has to be compared with the known genetic history of present-day populations in the region, which, in this case, were southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and other Oceanian islands.

Who was her ancestor?

Genetic analyses reveal that the individual shares significant genetic ancestry with the present-day populations of Oceania — Australia, Papua New Guinea and other island groups.

a.Sulawesi and Wallacea. The red rectangle indicates the region shown in b. b, Leang Panninge.

Selina Carlhoff, the lead author of the study, clarified in an email: “In direct comparisons, we show that these Near Oceanian groups are more closely related to each other than to Leang Panninge…which would place Leang Panninge outside of that clade.”

The populations of Oceania and Eurasia are supposed to have diverged 58,000 years ago, and the Papuan and Australian people around 37,000 years ago, which is also when the Leang Panninge individual had branched off.

While this was going on, populations from these areas had seen multiple introductions of genetic material from the Denisovans (Denisovans are an extinct species of early hominins that ranged across Asia during the Palaeolithic).

Researchers identified another genetic ancestral lineage in the ancient genome of the individual that seems more closely related to deep Asian lineages.

“Considering the Leang Panninge individual as an admixture between a Near Oceanian- and a deep East Asian-related lineage may also explain the reduced amount of Denisovan-related ancestry compared to present-day Papuan groups,” Carlhoff added.

Given the dearth of pre-Neolithic genomes from the region, it is difficult to underpin the exact source of admixtures. It could be that this individual carries some ancestry from the first Homo sapiens inhabitants of Sulawesi around 50,000 years ago, or that a Southeast Asian group related to the present-day Andamanese people had contributed some genetic material.

DNA from a teenage girl who died 7,200 years ago reveals previously unknown humans

DNA from a teenage girl who died 7,200 years ago reveals previously unknown humans

The bones of a teenage hunter-gatherer who died more than 7,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi tell the story of a previously unknown group of humans. This distinct human lineage has never been found anywhere else in the world, according to new research.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

DNA from teenage girl who died 7,200 years ago reveals previously unknown humans
The skeletal remains of an ancient teenage Toalean woman were nestled among large rocks, which were placed in the burial pit discovered in a cave on Sulawesi.

“We have discovered the first ancient human DNA in the island region between Asia and Australia, known as ‘Wallacea’, providing new insight into the genetic diversity and population history of early modern humans in this little-understood part of the world,” said the study co-author Adam Brumm, a professor of archaeology at Griffith University’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, via email.

The Leang Panninge cave is where researchers uncovered the remains of a young hunter-gatherer from 7,000 years ago.

The first modern humans used the Wallacea islands, mainly Indonesian islands that include Sulawesi, Lombok and Flores, as they crossed from Eurasia to the Australian continent more than 50,000 years ago, researchers believe. The exact route or how they navigated this crossing, however, is unknown.

“They must have done so using relatively sophisticated watercraft of some kind, as there were no land bridges between the islands, even during the glacial peaks of the last ice age, when global sea levels were up to 140 meters (459 feet) lower than they are today,” Brumm said.
Tools and cave paintings have suggested that humans were living on these islands by 47,000 years ago, but the fossil record is sparse and ancient DNA degrades more rapidly in the tropical climate.

However, researchers uncovered the skeleton of a female between the ages of 17 and 18 in a cave on Sulawesi in 2015. Her remains were buried in the cave 7,200 years ago. She was part of the Toalean culture, only found in a pocket of Sulawesi’s southwestern peninsula. The cave is part of an archaeological site called Leang Panninge.

Maro’s points are associated with the Toalean culture.

“The ‘Toaleans’ is the name archaeologists have given to a rather enigmatic culture of prehistoric hunter-gatherers that lived in the forested plains and mountains of South Sulawesi between around 8,000 years ago until roughly the fifth century AD,” said Brumm via email. “They made highly distinctive stone tools (including tiny, finely crafted arrowheads known as ‘Maros points’) that are not found anywhere else on the island or in wider Indonesia.”

The young hunter-gatherer is the first largely complete and well-preserved skeleton associated with the Toalean culture, Brumm said.
Lead study author Selina Carlhoff was able to retrieve DNA from the wedge-shaped petrous bone at the base of the skull.

“It was a major challenge, as the remains had been strongly degraded by the tropical climate,” said Carlhoff, also a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, in a statement.

Secrets hiding in DNA

The work to retrieve the genetic information was well worth it.
The young woman’s DNA showed that she descended from the first wave of modern humans to enter Wallacea 50,000 years ago. This was part of the initial colonization of “Greater Australia,” or the combined ice age landmass of Australia and New Guinea. These are the ancestors of present-day Indigenous Australians and Papuans, Brumm said.

Fragmentary remains of the girl’s skull were used to retrieve her DNA.

And it turns out that the oldest genome traced to the Wallacea islands revealed something else: previously unknown ancient humans.
She also shares ancestry with a separate and distinct group from Asia who likely arrived after the colonization of Greater Australia — because modern Indigenous Australians and Papuans don’t share ancestry with this group, Brumm said.

“Previously, it was thought that the first time people with Asian genes entered Wallacea was around 3,500 years ago when Austronesian-speaking farmers from Neolithic Taiwan swept down through the Philippines and into Indonesia,” he said.

“It suggests that there might have been a distinct group of modern humans in this region that we really had no idea about up until now, as archaeological sites are so scarce in Wallacea and ancient skeletal remains are rare.”

No descendants of this lineage remain.

Her genome included another trace of an enigmatic and extinct group of humans: Denisovans. The handful of fossils signifying that these early humans ever existed are largely from Siberia and Tibet.

“The fact that their genes are found in the hunter-gatherers of Leang Panninge supports our earlier hypothesis that the Denisovans occupied a far larger geographical area” than previously understood, said study co-author Johannes Krause, a professor of archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, in a statement.

But when her DNA was compared with that of other hunter-gatherers who lived west of Wallacea at the same time, their DNA didn’t contain any traces of Denisovan DNA.

“The geographic distribution of Denisovans and modern humans may have overlapped in the Wallacea region. It may well be the key place where Denisova people and the ancestors of indigenous Australians and Papuans interbred,” said study coauthor Cosimo Posth, a professor at the University of Tübingen’s Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment in Frankfurt, Germany, in a statement.

Researchers don’t know what happened to the Toalean culture, and this latest discovery is one piece of the puzzle as they try to understand the ancient genetic history of humans in Southeast Asia. Brumm hopes that more ancient DNA from the Toalean people can be recovered to reveal its diversity “and its wider ancestral story.”

Indonesia’s Early Rock Art Damaged by Climate Change

Indonesia’s Early Rock Art Damaged by Climate Change

Cosmos Magazine reports that climate change is rapidly weathering rock art at the Maros-Pangkep site in Sulawesi, Indonesia, which dates to at least 44,000 years ago.

Local archaeologists and site keepers for the ancient artworks of Maros-Pangkep in Sulawesi, including intergenerational custodians, told the scientists that the rock art “is disappearing now faster than any other time in living memory,” says lead author Jillian Huntley from Griffith University, Australia.

The paintings are dated up to at least 44,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene era. Rivalling European cave art, the illustrations of hunting scenes and mystical beings are thought to be the oldest evidence of figurative art and artistic creativity on the planet.

Advanced decay of recently discovered rock art at Leang Tedongnge. This Warty Pig is part of a panel dated to more than 45,500 years in age. Credit: Basran Burhan.
Staff from the BPCB conservation agency undertaking rock art monitoring in Maros-Pangkep.

Upon investigating the chemistry of the limestone rock face, Huntley and colleagues were surprised to find pervasive evidence of salt crystallisation (haloclasty). “When I saw how high some of the chemical indicators for salts like gypsum were, I was astonished,” she says.

The salts chemically weaken the rock and mechanically separate the surface of the panels from the limestone wall and ceiling, causing the rock art to flake off the walls.

The team conducted further analysis of the types of salts to understand what was causing them to form and reviewed paleoclimate records. Results suggest natural geological weathering processes in the tropical region are being exacerbated.

“These processes are accelerated by increasing temperatures, more extreme weather,” Huntley explains: “more consecutive dry days, prolonged droughts, water from storms and flood and increasing humidity from standing water in floods and food production such as rice field and aquaculture ponds.”

Next to extensive quarry mining of limestone, the weathering poses the greatest threat to the preservation of the irreplaceable cave art, the authors say.

“The amount we have learned from studying this rock art just in the last few years is staggering,” says Huntley. It “houses the earliest yet known animal depiction and the first complex narrative scene yet found. These are important markers of people’s cognitive and social capacities.”

Another example of the wide-ranging impacts of climate change, the discovery underscores the importance of research and conservation efforts in Maros-Pangkep and across Australasia, where more sites are being discovered every year, she adds.

“We are in a race against time to document and learn from this rock art before it is irrevocably damaged.”