In a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, an international team of researchers has discovered a jawbone that represents the oldest human remains found in Wallasia. The group published a paper describing their discovery on the open access site PLUS ONE.
Over the past several decades, archaeologists have found evidence of ancient people living in Wallasia, a group of Indonesian islands relatively close to Australia. In a cave called Leang Bulu Bettue, they found tools, ornaments and cave art, but little in the way of human remains. In this new effort, researchers found a jawbone with three connected molars. Dating the motifs, pigments, and portable art surrounding the find indicates that the remains were from a modern human who lived in the area between 16,000 and 25,000 years ago, during the Ice Age. The discovery could shed light on the people who lived in the area during that time – scientists believe they are the ancestors of people who arrived by boat thousands of years ago, and the ancestors of the first modern people to reach Australia.
A study of the jawbone showed that a person, whose gender is still unknown, suffers from a group of oral diseases. The molars were ground, indicating that a person had used them as a tool for some purpose. There was evidence of tooth loss, gum disease and tooth decay. This indicates that the person’s diet was rich in carbohydrates. In addition, the person was likely older, and had smaller teeth, which indicates that, like other early hominids of the island, those living in Sulawesi were likely of small stature compared to those in Europe.
The jawbone dates back to the late Pleistocene, during the Pleistocene. This means that ocean levels around the island will be lower – albeit not low enough to create a land bridge between the islands or to Australia. The researchers plan to continue searching for more evidence of the person who left it behind.
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Adam Broome et al, Skeletal remains of a Pleistocene Homo sapiens (Homo sapiens) from Sulawesi, PLUS ONE (2021). DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0257273
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