SYDNEY – A new analysis of old fossils revealed that modern humans from Africa came to the Indonesian island of Sumatra 63,000 years ago, some 20,000 years earlier than what was previously believed, academic sources said Thursday.
The find can be said to confirm the scientific community’s suspicions that Southeast Asia was populated more than 45,000 years ago, a possibility that indicates human presence before this time in China and Australia, proof of which however is still not available.
The current evidence was obtained from the analysis of the fossils of two teeth found more than 100 years ago at the Lida Ajer cave, on the western coast of Sumatra, carried out by archaeologists from the Macquarie University of Australia.
“Earlier there was evidence of modern humans from 45,000 years ago in Borneo and 46,000 years in Laos, and with this we go back 63,000 to 73,000 years,” the study’s lead author Kira Westaway told EFE.
The fossils – a molar and an incisor – from the Lida Ajer cave had been excavated by the Dutch paleoanthropologist Eugene Dubois, also known for having discovered the so called “Java Man,” and who visited several caves in Sumatra around the end of the 19th century.
Gilbert Price of the University of Queensland, who was also a part of the study, said in a statement from the institution that no one had spent much time trying to determine the significance of the teeth fossils.
For the study, published in Nature magazine, they combined several dating techniques on sediments around fossils and layers of cave rock deposits and the teeth of associated mammals.
The results indicated the fossils were between 63,000 and 73,000 years old, bringing out the relevance of the teeth 120 years after they were discovered, according to a statement by the University of Queensland.
Westaway said that they managed to date the teeth and confirmed that they belonged to modern humans, something important to understanding human evolution.
The new finding confirms that the region of Southeast Asia is key to understanding the dispersal of humans from Africa towards Australia, and establishes that modern humans did manage to adapt to tropical forests.
The experts underlined how the conditions in this environment were very difficult for a species such as Homo Sapiens, who were used to open grasslands.
Westway said tropical forests are a difficult place to live, because even though it seems that all is well and there is water, in reality when on the ground, one realizes that all the food is in the canopies, high up in the trees.
“It suggests that these people were ahead of the curve in terms of intelligence, planning and technological adaptation,” Price added.