Abstract

Sulawesi is the largest and oldest island within Wallacea, a vast zone of oceanic islands separating continental Asia from the Pleistocene landmass of Australia and Papua (Sahul). By one million years ago an unknown hominin lineage had colonized Flores immediately to the south1, and by about 50 thousand years ago, modern humans (Homo sapiens) had crossed to Sahul2,3. On the basis of position, oceanic currents and biogeographical context, Sulawesi probably played a pivotal part in these dispersals4. Uranium-series dating of speleothem deposits associated with rock art in the limestone karst region of Maros in southwest Sulawesi has revealed that humans were living on the island at least 40 thousand years ago (ref. 5). Here we report new excavations at Talepu in the Walanae Basin northeast of Maros, where in situ stone artefacts associated with fossil remains of megafauna (Bubalus sp., Stegodon and Celebochoerus) have been recovered from stratified deposits that accumulated from before 200 thousand years ago until about 100 thousand years ago. Our findings suggest that Sulawesi, like Flores, was host to a long-established population of archaic hominins, the ancestral origins and taxonomic status of which remain elusive.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by grants from the Australian Research Council (ARC) to M.J.M. (DP0770234/DP1093342) and G.D.v.d.B. (FT100100384), and funds from the Geological Survey Institute of Indonesia. L.B. and R.G.R. are supported by ARC Fellowships FT140100384 and FL130100116, respectively. A.B.’s involvement was supported by ARC fellowship DE130101560. The stone tool analysis was supported by ARC Fellowship DP1093342 to M.W.M., and M.S. was funded by the Villum Foundation. The fieldwork was authorized by the directors of the Geological Survey Institute of Indonesia, A. Djumarma Wirakusumah and Y. Kusumahbrata. We further acknowledge the Indonesian State Ministry of Research and Technology and the National Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta (ARKENAS), for facilitating the research. Field assistants included H. Oktaviana, Dadang, S. Sudjarwadi, Ngaliman, T. Suryana and U. P. Wibowo. During the excavations we were assisted by the landowner, Wahe, and 11 other local labourers. Y. Jafari prepared the sediment samples for optical dating and L. Kinsley assisted with the uranium-series analysis. We thank K. Westaway, D. Granger, B. Pillans and B. Jones for additional field support, and S. van der Mije for allowing access to the vertebrate collection at Naturalis. S. Hayes is thanked for providing feedback on the manuscript.

Author information

Author notes

    • Michael J. Morwood

    Deceased.

Affiliations

  1. Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia

    • Gerrit D. van den Bergh
    • , Bo Li
    • , Dida Yurnaldi
    • , Ruly Setiawan
    • , Richard G. Roberts
    •  & Michael J. Morwood
  2. Naturalis Biodiversity Center, 2333 CR Leiden, The Netherlands

    • Gerrit D. van den Bergh
  3. Research Centre for Human Evolution, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia

    • Adam Brumm
    •  & Rainer Grün
  4. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia

    • Adam Brumm
  5. Geology Museum Bandung, Geological Agency, Jalan Diponegoro 57, Bandung 40122, Indonesia

    • Dida Yurnaldi
    • , Iwan Kurniawan
    • , Ruly Setiawan
    • , Fachroel Aziz
    • , Suyono
    •  & Erick Setiabudi
  6. Archaeology, School of Humanities, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales 2350, Australia

    • Mark W. Moore
  7. Quadlab, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 5-7, 13 DK-1350 Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Michael Storey

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Contributions

M.J.M. and G.D.v.d.B. conceived the study with F.A., as part of a wider project led by M.J.M., in collaboration with A.B., I.K., S. and E.S. Samples for optical dating were collected and analysed by B.L. and R.G.R. R.G. conducted the uranium-series dating and M.S. analysed samples for 40Ar/39Ar dating. A.B. and M.W.M. identified and analysed the stone artefacts. G.D.v.d.B. and I.K. analysed the fossil specimens. G.D.v.d.B. and R.S. recorded the site stratigraphy. D.Y. collected and analysed samples for palaeomagnetism. S. conducted a regional geological survey supervised by G.D.v.d.B. and M.J.M. G.D.v.d.B. and A.B. wrote the manuscript, with contributions from the other authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Gerrit D. van den Bergh or Bo Li.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature16448

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