Research suggests early humans island-hopped to Australia via the North

Further archaeological evidence delineates the migration route taken by early humans to Australia, and it is likely that is was not through the island of Timor.

The paths of early human migration has been questioned in recent times.
The paths of early human migration has been questioned in recent times.

A distinguished Professor at the Australian National University’s School of Culture, History & Language, Susan O’Connor, unveils evidence that the first early human settlers of Australia were unlikely to have come through Timor.

Two possibilities for migration to Australia

It has long been posited that early humans were like to have taken two routes to reach and eventually settle in Australia. One route is via the island of Timor to the South and the second route could have involved the migration of early humans through Southeast Asia to Sahul, facilitating the more permanent habitation of Australia and New Guinea. Evidence suggests that humans could have landed in Sahul as early as 65,000 years ago.

Sahul was a prehistoric supercontinent that encompassed what is now Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea, and other islands. Sahul existed when global sea levels were substantially lower and vast quantities of the world's water were locked up in ice sheets. During the Pleistocene period, lower sea levels united various land masses through land bridges, resulting in a single, continuous territory. As such, humans could migrate across dry land and/or hop between nearby islands via sea-bourne vessels.

Study Findings

Professor O’Connor’s earlier archaeological findings included evidence of human occupation earlier than 50,000 years ago. Other excavated sites yielded no more evidence of earlier occupation due to the lack of sediment layers and the presence of bedrock layers.

Thousands of stone tools were among the many archaeological artefacts unearthed by her team during the 2019 excavation of a previously unrecorded pit at Laili Cave on the north coast of East Timor. Based on this evidence, the island has been inhabited by people for no less than 44,000 years. Crucially, the sediments below the layer containing the evidence of human activity showed no traces of habitation.

According to O'Connor, this suggests that before 44,000 years ago, humans were probably not present on the island. O'Connor calls this distinct break—where a protracted era of numerous artefacts follows a period lacking human evidence—an "arrival signature."

O'Connor argues that the data points to an early human migration across the northern islands before reaching Timor, as evidence shows that humans were present in Australia 65,000 years ago, yet only in Timor 44,000 years ago. As part of this migration path, several islands, including those in modern-day Indonesia, might have been crossed and used as stepping stones. Early humans could have moved through the area gradually over thousands of years, expanding from island to island before eventually reaching Timor.