Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Out of Asia

Credit: Jamie Tufrey

Credit: Jamie Tufrey

By Sue O’Connor

The discovery of ancient fish hooks and the bones of offshore fish species reveals that the people living to the north of Australia more than 50,000 years ago had the maritime skills and equipment necessary to reach Australia.

Sue O’Connor is Professor of Archaeology and Natural History at The Australian National University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Some time prior to 50,000 years ago, modern humans left mainland Asia (Sunda) and began the first of a series of maritime voyages that was to culminate in the colonisation of Sahul (Australia and New Guinea). This was a remarkable accomplishment at this early date, and demonstrates the capacity for complex planning and technological innovation that has become the hallmark of our species.

Firstly, it required the successful navigation of many water crossings between islands. Secondly, the colonists arriving on new island shores had to adapt to unfamiliar faunas, floras and landscapes. Finally, on an archaeological timescale, the journey from one continental region to the other appears to have been accomplished very rapidly, and more than 30,000 years before the colonisation of the Americas.

Obviously the crossing from Sunda to Sahul was not accomplished by a single founder group or within a few generations. We do not know how many millennia or generations passed or how many attempts at colonisation of islands en route may have ended in failure or extinction.

However, we do know that people were moving through the northern savannah regions of Australia by 50,000 years ago, and that by 45,000 years ago they had migrated east as far as the Bismarck Archipelago. By 35,000 years ago some of the smallest and most remote of the South-East Asian islands to...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.