Subject: Evidence shows humans in Timor 35,000 years ago

USA December 3, 2001

Evidence shows humans in Timor 35,000 years ago

By Michael A. Stowe, Archaeology Today

The island of Timor, in the Indonesian Archipelago, denied to archaeologists for years because of violence and political instability, is now yielding evidence of human occupation some 35,000 years ago — making it the oldest inhabited site in that region.

Excavations at a small cave known as Lena Hara in East Timor revealed fragments of shell that were left by its ancient occupants. National University of Australia at Canberra researchers Susan O'Connor and Matthew Spriggs gathered the shell fragments for analysis and radiocarbon dating. The results astonished them.

"Initially, we didn't think the cave was particularly old — maybe 8,000 years old — and we were surprised when the dating figures came in," Spriggs says. "The dates showed us we are hot on the trail of the earliest human inhabitants of East Timor, who may well have been the ancestors of the earliest Australians." Timor, about 300 miles from the Australian coast, may have been used as a stepping stone for aboriginal people arriving from Asia.

The radiocarbon dates indicate the cave likely was occupied by roughly 30,000 to 35,000 years ago, more than 17,000 years earlier than previous evidence has put humans in the area.

"We are anxious to get back in the field … to continue our search for even earlier sites," Spriggs said. Added O'Connor: "We have a good idea of the technologies used by the earliest Australians some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. If the earliest Timorese stone tools are the same, this would establish links between the two populations."

Research on the island continues with the cooperation of the University of East Timor and the museum in Dili.

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