Archaeological discoveries on a remote Indonesian island provide vital clues about people living there 17,000 years

ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage

Stepping-stones back in time — a ‘treasure map’ and local knowledge uncover first evidence of people living on a remote Indonesian island tens of thousands of years ago.

Stone tools, animal bones, and decorative beads unearthed on a remote tropical island in the northern gateway to Australia are helping to build a picture of how people lived there more than 17,500 years ago.

The discoveries, on the small Indonesian island of Obi, include the earliest evidence in the region of a particular stone tool technology, edge-ground axes, dating back 14,000 years. Obi, a densely forested 2,500km2 island, was one of the destinations previously plotted on a ‘treasure map‘ developed by CABAH researchers to identify the stepping-stones Aboriginal people used to get to Australia.

The rugged volcanic island is located in a region historically renowned for trade in spices like nutmeg, mace, and cloves that may also contain preserved evidence of modern people moving across Indonesia to the super-continent of Sahul more than 50,000 years ago. However, the archaeology of the region is largely unexplored.

The results of the first excavations on Obi, published today in PLOS ONE, offer exciting insights to the technologies and diets of people living there during three phases of occupation dating back to before the last Ice Age.

/Public Release.