PNG find prompts human migration rethink
49,000-year-old artefacts have been unearthed in PNG, suggesting a rethink of human migration patterns.
ANCIENT ARTEFACTS UNEARTHED IN
The Ivane Valley in PNG, where 49,000 year-old artefacts have been uncovered. (Photo: Glenn Summerhayes and Andrew Fairbairn)
the highlands of Papua New Guinea
provide some of the earliest evidence of human settlement of Sahul, the
primordial landmass that once joined Papua New Guinea with Australia.
nut shells from pandanus trees, fragments of animal bone and the
remains of stone axes were found in the remote Ivane Valley of
south-eastern Papua New Guinea - near the famous Kokoda Track - by a
team led by archaeology Professor Glenn Summerhayes from the University
of Otago, New Zealand.
These artefacts, which have been dated to
between 49,000 and 44,000 years old, may prompt a rethink of the
traditional view that the prehistoric migration of people throughout the
world took place along the coasts.
"This is among the earliest
evidence of human habitation in this part of the world, or indeed any
place outside Africa, India and the Middle East," Glenn told Australian Geographic
"Many models for the movements of people argue for a colonisation route
along the coast, arguing that people were pre-adapted to a coastal way
of life...Our evidence shows such a pre-adaptation would have been short
lived as people moved into highland valleys as soon as they got out of
"Cold, uncompromising place"
Ivane Valley resident, Paul Lamui, demonstrates how to
use rocks to crack pandanus nuts open - the same method used 49,000
years ago according to excavation evidence in the Ivane Valley of PNG.
(Photo: Andrew Fairbairn)
The team's study is published today in the journal Science.
Peter Bellwood, an archaeologist at ANU who was not part of the team,
agrees the wealth of evidence found in the Ivane Valley "provides the
first reliable dates for the earliest habitation of the PNG Highlands."
Professor Chris Gosden from the University of Oxford - who writes a related article in the same issue of Science
- says its unlikely early humans would have lived there permanently as
it was a "cold, difficult and uncompromising place to live at any time
over the past 50,000 years."
Starch grains from yams recovered in
the valley appear to support this, having most likely been transported
there from their natural habitat in the lower elevations closer to the
country's steamy sub-tropical coast. Highly mobile
Dr Andrew Fairbairn from the University of Queensland, who worked with
Glenn on the research, says this suggests early humans lived in small
nomadic populations that moved up and down the mountains of Papua New
Guinea in search of food.
"They clearly were very mobile. We
assume [they lived in] some form of egalitarian structure, but it's very
difficult to say from the archaeological remains alone. It was a very
cold period in history and these people were both resourceful and
capable to be able to live at this altitude," he says.
Long isolated by water, Sahul is thought to have been colonised via canoe from Southeast Asia sometime after 50,000 years ago. While the Papua New Guinea Highlands was one of the areas first settled by the new arrivals, evidence exists of the presence of these early humans - who are also believed to be the ancestors of the modern Aboriginies - in Australia from around the same time.
While DNA evidence proves this common ancestral link between Australia's Aboriginies and their modern Melanesian cousins, rising sea levels around 8000 years ago seperated the two groups of people, leading to significant subsequent differences. A map of the Ivane Valley in Papua New Guinea (Photo: AAAS)MORE INOAG's 'Experience PNG' reader event
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