Our archaeology program focuses on excavating sites in Island Southeast Asia

This region in particular has yielded some of the most important and unexpected insights into human evolution outside Africa.

Well over a century after the first fossils of Homo erectus were brought to light at Trinil, Java, and at a time when the Southeast Asian branch of our family tree seemed to have been documented in full, two new findings have forced a rethink of the story.

INSPIRING NEW FINDINGS

In 2003, excavations on Flores in the Wallacean archipelago of Indonesia unearthed fossils of Homo floresiensis (the ‘Hobbit’), a previously unknown hominin of diminutive stature that may be a dwarfed Homo erectus or the remnant of a more ancient African ancestor. In 2011, human genome research showed that modern Australasian peoples derive ~4-6% of their genes from ‘Denisovans’, a mysterious line of hominins whose geographical range seems to have extended from Siberia to Southeast Asia, and perhaps to Wallacea.

These startling breakthroughs hint at the unrecognised complexity of the human story in this region and how little of it is known to us. The emerging picture is of multiple waves of hominins arriving from at least 1.5 million years ago, followed by the long-term persistence, and, in some cases, unusually late survival of long-isolated lineages (for example, on Flores) and subsequent temporal overlap with the first Homo sapiens to venture into the region.

FIELD WORK

ARCHE-led fieldwork projects now underway on Flores, Sulawesi and other parts of Island Southeast Asia and the wider region are aimed at yielding data that will fill crucial gaps in our knowledge of this increasingly complicated history of human evolution and diversity. It's highly likely, given the remarkable findings of the past decade, that many more surprises await us.

Projects

  • Excavations of early human occupation sites in limestone caves of Maros, Sulawesi: with Dr Mark W. Moore (University of New England), Dr Gerrit D. van den Bergh and Dr Li Bo (University of Wollongong), Dr Michelle Langley (ANU); Indonesian institutional counterparts: Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Makassar, Balai Arkeologi Makassar, and the National Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS).
  • Excavations of early hominin open air sites in the Walanae Depression of Sulawesi: with Dr Gerrit D. van den Bergh and Dr Li Bo (University of Wollongong), Dr Mark W. Moore (University of New England). Indonesian institutional counterparts: Geological Agency of Indonesia, incorporating the Bandung Geology Museum and the Geological Survey Institute.
  • Analysis and dating of prehistoric artworks (cave paintings and ‘portable’ art) in Sulawesi: with Indonesian institutional counterparts Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya Makassar, Balai Arkeologi Makassar and the National Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS).
  • Excavations of early hominin open air lakeshore sites in the So’a Basin of Flores: with Dr Gerrit D. van den Bergh (University of Wollongong) and Dr Mark W. Moore (University of New England). Indonesian institutional counterparts: Geological Agency of Indonesia, incorporating the Bandung Geology Museum and the Geological Survey Institute.

Current grants

2017–2020 Australian Research Council DECRA, $358,752

Australia's Living Technologies: Bone Tools from First Peoples to Contact

This project aims to study Indigenous Australian technologies made from animal bone and tooth to provide insights into pre-contact Australia and the development of human ingenuity. The project will use modern analytical techniques to examine Australia’s ancient bone tool industry, and apply use-wear techniques to deduce the cognitive, social and technological processes behind their manufacture and use.

Investigator: Dr Michelle Langley

2016–2020 Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, $833,000

Extinct hominins and early humans on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi

This project aims to research the archaic hominins of Sulawesi and discover when and why they became extinct. Recent discoveries of ancient stone tools on Sulawesi show an archaic and as-yet unidentified hominin species inhabited this remote Indonesian island before modern humans arrived around 50,000 years ago. This project will search for the earliest traces of habitation, attempt to uncover the Sulawesi hominins’ fossil record and look for evidence of hominin-modern human interaction on this island. This project is expected to illuminate a previously unknown chapter in the human story.

Investigator: Associate Professor Adam Brumm

Grant details

See all of ARCHE’s past and current grants

Relevant publications

Our publications

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