When did Homo sapiens first reach Southeast Asia and Sahul?
ABSTRACT: Anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens, AMH) began spreading across Eurasia from Africa and adjacent Southwest Asia about 50,000-55,000 years ago (ca 50-55 ka). Some have argued that human genetic, fossil, and archaeological data indicate one or more prior dispersals, possibly as early as 120 ka. A recently reported age estimate of 65 ka for Madjedbebe, an archaeological site in northern Sahul (Pleistocene Australia-New Guinea), if correct, offers what might be the strongest support yet presented for a pre-55-ka African AMH exodus. We review evidence for AMH arrival on an arc spanning South China through Sahul and then evaluate data from Madjedbebe. We find that an age estimate of >50 ka for this site is unlikely to be valid. While AMH may have moved far beyond Africa well before 50-55 ka, data from the region of interest offered in support of this idea are not compelling.
Project description:New Guineans represent one of the oldest locally continuous populations outside Africa, harboring among the greatest linguistic and genetic diversity on the planet. Archeological and genetic evidence suggest that their ancestors reached Sahul (present day New Guinea and Australia) by at least 55,000 years ago (kya). However, little is known about this early settlement phase or subsequent dispersal and population structuring over the subsequent period of time. Here we report 379 complete Papuan mitochondrial genomes from across Papua New Guinea, which allow us to reconstruct the phylogenetic and phylogeographic history of northern Sahul. Our results support the arrival of two groups of settlers in Sahul within the same broad time window (50-65 kya), each carrying a different set of maternal lineages and settling Northern and Southern Sahul separately. Strong geographic structure in northern Sahul remains visible today, indicating limited dispersal over time despite major climatic, cultural, and historical changes. However, following a period of isolation lasting nearly 20 ky after initial settlement, environmental changes postdating the Last Glacial Maximum stimulated diversification of mtDNA lineages and greater interactions within and beyond Northern Sahul, to Southern Sahul, Wallacea and beyond. Later, in the Holocene, populations from New Guinea, in contrast to those of Australia, participated in early interactions with incoming Asian populations from Island Southeast Asia and continuing into Oceania.
Project description:Around 88 large vertebrate taxa disappeared from Sahul sometime during the Pleistocene, with the majority of losses (54 taxa) clearly taking place within the last 400,000 years. The largest was the 2.8-ton browsing Diprotodon optatum, whereas the ?100- to 130-kg marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, the world's most specialized mammalian carnivore, and Varanus priscus, the largest lizard known, were formidable predators. Explanations for these extinctions have centered on climatic change or human activities. Here, we review the evidence and arguments for both. Human involvement in the disappearance of some species remains possible but unproven. Mounting evidence points to the loss of most species before the peopling of Sahul (circa 50-45 ka) and a significant role for climate change in the disappearance of the continent's megafauna.
Project description:The settlement of Sahul, the lost continent of Oceania, remains one of the most ancient and debated human migrations. Modern New Guineans inherited a unique genetic diversity tracing back 50,000 years, and yet there is currently no model reconstructing their past population dynamics. We generated 58 new whole genome sequences from Papua New Guinea, filling geographical gaps in previous sampling, specifically to address alternative scenarios of the initial migration to Sahul and the settlement of New Guinea. Here, we present the first genomic models for the settlement of northeast Sahul considering one or two migrations from Wallacea. Both models fit our dataset, reinforcing the idea that ancestral groups to New Guinean and Indigenous Australians split early, potentially during their migration in Wallacea where the northern route could have been favored. The earliest period of human presence in Sahul was an era of interactions and gene flow between related but already differentiated groups, from whom all modern New Guineans, Bismarck islanders and Indigenous Australians descend. The settlement of New Guinea was probably initiated from its southeast region, where the oldest archaeological sites have been found. This was followed by two migrations into the south and north lowlands that ultimately reached the west and east highlands. We also identify ancient gene flows between populations in New Guinea, Australia, East Indonesia and the Bismarck Archipelago, emphasizing the fact that the anthropological landscape during the early period of Sahul settlement was highly dynamic rather than the traditional view of extensive isolation.
Project description:Understanding the timing and character of the expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa is critical for inferring the colonization and admixture processes that underpin global population history. It has been argued that dispersal out of Africa had an early phase, particularly ~130-90 thousand years ago (ka), that reached only the East Mediterranean Levant, and a later phase, ~60-50?ka, that extended across the diverse environments of Eurasia to Sahul. However, recent findings from East Asia and Sahul challenge this model. Here we show that H. sapiens was in the Arabian Peninsula before 85?ka. We describe the Al Wusta-1 (AW-1) intermediate phalanx from the site of Al Wusta in the Nefud desert, Saudi Arabia. AW-1 is the oldest directly dated fossil of our species outside Africa and the Levant. The palaeoenvironmental context of Al Wusta demonstrates that H. sapiens using Middle Palaeolithic stone tools dispersed into Arabia during a phase of increased precipitation driven by orbital forcing, in association with a primarily African fauna. A Bayesian model incorporating independent chronometric age estimates indicates a chronology for Al Wusta of ~95-86?ka, which we correlate with a humid episode in the later part of Marine Isotope Stage 5 known from various regional records. Al Wusta shows that early dispersals were more spatially and temporally extensive than previously thought. Early H. sapiens dispersals out of Africa were not limited to winter rainfall-fed Levantine Mediterranean woodlands immediately adjacent to Africa, but extended deep into the semi-arid grasslands of Arabia, facilitated by periods of enhanced monsoonal rainfall.
Project description:The Out-of-Africa model holds that anatomically modern humans (AMH) evolved and dispersed from Africa into Asia, and later Europe. Palaeoanthropological evidence from the Near East assumes great importance, but AMH remains from the region are extremely scarce. 'Egbert', a now-lost AMH fossil from the key site of Ksar Akil (Lebanon) and 'Ethelruda', a recently re-discovered fragmentary maxilla from the same site, are two rare examples where human fossils are directly linked with early Upper Palaeolithic archaeological assemblages. Here we radiocarbon date the contexts from which Egbert and Ethelruda were recovered, as well as the levels above and below the findspots. In the absence of well-preserved organic materials, we primarily used marine shell beads, often regarded as indicative of behavioural modernity. Bayesian modelling allows for the construction of a chronostratigraphic framework for Ksar Akil, which supports several conclusions. The model-generated age estimates place Egbert between 40.8-39.2 ka cal BP (68.2% prob.) and Ethelruda between 42.4-41.7 ka cal BP (68.2% prob.). This indicates that Egbert is of an age comparable to that of the oldest directly-dated European AMH (Pe?tera cu Oase). Ethelruda is older, but on current estimates not older than the modern human teeth from Cavallo in Italy. The dating of the so-called "transitional" or Initial Upper Palaeolithic layers of the site may indicate that the passage from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic at Ksar Akil, and possibly in the wider northern Levant, occurred later than previously estimated, casting some doubts on the assumed singular role of the region as a locus for human dispersals into Europe. Finally, tentative interpretations of the fossil's taxonomy, combined with the chronometric dating of Ethelruda's context, provides evidence that the transitional/IUP industries of Europe and the Levant, or at least some of them, may be the result of early modern human migration(s).
Project description:The tropical archipelago of Wallacea contains thousands of individual islands interspersed between mainland Asia and Near Oceania, and marks the location of a series of ancient oceanic voyages leading to the peopling of Sahul-i.e., the former continent that joined Australia and New Guinea at a time of lowered sea level-by 50,000 years ago. Despite the apparent deep antiquity of human presence in Wallacea, prior population history research in this region has been hampered by patchy archaeological and genetic records and is largely concentrated upon more recent history that follows the arrival of Austronesian seafarers ~3000-4000 years ago (3-4 ka). To shed light on the deeper history of Wallacea and its connections with New Guinea and Australia, we performed phylogeographic analyses on 656 whole mitogenomes from these three regions, including 186 new samples from eight Wallacean islands and three West Papuan populations. Our results point to a surprisingly dynamic population history in Wallacea, marked by two periods of extensive demographic change concentrated around the Last Glacial Maximum ~15 ka and post-Austronesian contact ~3 ka. These changes appear to have greatly diminished genetic signals informative about the original peopling of Sahul, and have important implications for our current understanding of the population history of the region.
Project description:The predominantly African origin of all modern human populations is well established, but the route taken out of Africa is still unclear. Two alternative routes, via Egypt and Sinai or across the Bab el Mandeb strait into Arabia, have traditionally been proposed as feasible gateways in light of geographic, paleoclimatic, archaeological, and genetic evidence. Distinguishing among these alternatives has been difficult. We generated 225 whole-genome sequences (225 at 8× depth, of which 8 were increased to 30×; Illumina HiSeq 2000) from six modern Northeast African populations (100 Egyptians and five Ethiopian populations each represented by 25 individuals). West Eurasian components were masked out, and the remaining African haplotypes were compared with a panel of sub-Saharan African and non-African genomes. We showed that masked Northeast African haplotypes overall were more similar to non-African haplotypes and more frequently present outside Africa than were any sets of haplotypes derived from a West African population. Furthermore, the masked Egyptian haplotypes showed these properties more markedly than the masked Ethiopian haplotypes, pointing to Egypt as the more likely gateway in the exodus to the rest of the world. Using five Ethiopian and three Egyptian high-coverage masked genomes and the multiple sequentially Markovian coalescent (MSMC) approach, we estimated the genetic split times of Egyptians and Ethiopians from non-African populations at 55,000 and 65,000 years ago, respectively, whereas that of West Africans was estimated to be 75,000 years ago. Both the haplotype and MSMC analyses thus suggest a predominant northern route out of Africa via Egypt.
Project description:Explanations for the Upper Pleistocene extinction of megafauna from Sahul (Australia and New Guinea) remain unresolved. Extinction hypotheses have advanced climate or human-driven scenarios, in spite of over three quarters of Sahul lacking reliable biogeographic or chronologic data. Here we present new megafauna from north-eastern Australia that suffered extinction sometime after 40,100 (±1700) years ago. Megafauna fossils preserved alongside leaves, seeds, pollen and insects, indicate a sclerophyllous forest with heathy understorey that was home to aquatic and terrestrial carnivorous reptiles and megaherbivores, including the world's largest kangaroo. Megafauna species diversity is greater compared to southern sites of similar age, which is contrary to expectations if extinctions followed proposed migration routes for people across Sahul. Our results do not support rapid or synchronous human-mediated continental-wide extinction, or the proposed timing of peak extinction events. Instead, megafauna extinctions coincide with regionally staggered spatio-temporal deterioration in hydroclimate coupled with sustained environmental change.
Project description:Detailed, well-dated palaeoclimate and archaeological records are critical for understanding the impact of environmental change on human evolution. Ga-Mohana Hill, in the southern Kalahari, South Africa, preserves a Pleistocene archaeological sequence. Relict tufas at the site are evidence of past flowing streams, waterfalls, and shallow pools. Here, we use laser ablation screening to target material suitable for uranium-thorium dating. We obtained 33 ages covering the last 110 thousand years (ka) and identify five tufa formation episodes at 114-100 ka, 73-48 ka, 44-32 ka, 15-6 ka, and ~3 ka. Three tufa episodes are coincident with the archaeological units at Ga-Mohana Hill dating to ~105 ka, ~31 ka, and ~15 ka. Based on our data and the coincidence of dated layers from other local records, we argue that in the southern Kalahari, from ~240 ka to ~71 ka wet phases and human occupation are coupled, but by ~20 ka during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), they are decoupled.
Project description:Archaeological sites in northern Africa provide a rich record of increasing importance for the origins of modern human behaviour and for understanding human dispersal out of Africa. However, the timing and nature of Palaeolithic human behaviour and dispersal across north-western Africa (the Maghreb), and their relationship to local environmental conditions, remain poorly understood. The cave of Rhafas (northeast Morocco) provides valuable chronological information about cultural changes in the Maghreb during the Palaeolithic due to its long stratified archaeological sequence comprising Middle Stone Age (MSA), Later Stone Age (LSA) and Neolithic occupation layers. In this study, we apply optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating on sand-sized quartz grains to the cave deposits of Rhafas, as well as to a recently excavated section on the terrace in front of the cave entrance. We hereby provide a revised chronostratigraphy for the archaeological sequence at the site. We combine these results with geological and sedimentological multi-proxy investigations to gain insights into site formation processes and the palaeoenvironmental record of the region. The older sedimentological units at Rhafas were deposited between 135 ka and 57 ka (MIS 6 -MIS 3) and are associated with the MSA technocomplex. Tanged pieces start to occur in the archaeological layers around 109 ka, which is consistent with previously published chronological data from the Maghreb. A well indurated duricrust indicates favourable climatic conditions for the pedogenic cementation by carbonates of sediment layers at the site after 57 ka. Overlying deposits attributed to the LSA technocomplex yield ages of ~21 ka and ~15 ka, corresponding to the last glacial period, and fall well within the previously established occupation phase in the Maghreb. The last occupation phase at Rhafas took place during the Neolithic and is dated to ~7.8 ka.