Ancient Timorese Mud Unearths Rare Discovery That Could Rewrite Australasia’s Human Settlement History

Ancient Timorese Mud Unearths Rare Discovery That Could Rewrite Australasia's Human Settlement History

New research published in Nature Communications suggests that a large wave of migration reached the island of Timor not long after 50,000 years ago. This challenges previous theories about the timing and route of the earliest human migration into Australia and New Guinea.

The study was conducted at Laili rock shelter in Timor-Leste, where deep sediments dating between 59,000 and 54,000 years ago were found. Surprisingly, these sediments contained no signs of human presence. However, layers on top of these sediments revealed clear evidence of human arrival around 44,000 years ago.

This evidence supports the view that humans arrived in the region in a deliberate and large-scale colonisation effort, rather than through ad-hoc settlement by a small population. The earliest traces of occupation at the site included hearths, dense accumulations of stone artefacts, and remains of a diet rich in fish and shellfish.

The findings also suggest that the migration to Sahul, the landmass comprising Australia and New Guinea, was an ongoing process rather than a single event. The occupation of the southern islands, including Timor, occurred thousands of years after the initial settlement of Australia.

The research indicates that humans first arrived in Australia via New Guinea rather than Timor. This may be due to the fact that the southern islands had fewer land-dwelling animals to sustain early colonists, making survival more challenging compared to the northern islands.

Overall, this study provides new insights into the waves of migration that shaped the human colonisation of the globe, highlighting the role of climate change and adaptability to different environments.