The 37,000-year old remains of the “Deep Skull” — the oldest modern human discovered in South-East Asia — was not related to indigenous Australians, as had been originally thought, says a new study.
The Deep Skull found in Niah Cave in Sarawak, Malaysia in 1958, was also likely to have been an older woman, rather than a teenage boy, the researchers said.
“Our analysis overturns long-held views about the early history of this region,” said lead researcher Darren Curnoe, Associate Professor in the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia.
“We’ve found that these very ancient remains most closely resemble some of the Indigenous people of Borneo today, with their delicately built features and small body size, rather than indigenous people from Australia,” Curnoe noted.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
The Deep Skull was discovered by Tom Harrisson of the Sarawak Museum during excavations at the West Mouth of the great Niah Cave complex and was analysed by prominent British anthropologist Don Brothwell.
In 1960, Brothwell concluded the Deep Skull belonged to an adolescent male and represented a population of early modern humans closely related, or even ancestral, to Indigenous Australians, particularly Tasmanians.
“Brothwell’s ideas have been highly influential and stood largely untested, so we wanted to see whether they might be correct after almost six decades,” Curnoe said.
“Our study challenges many of these old ideas. It shows the Deep Skull is from a middle-aged female rather than a teenage boy, and has few similarities to Indigenous Australians.
Instead, it more closely resembles people today from more northerly parts of South-East Asia,” Curnoe noted.