According to research published this week, archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 7,200-year-old skeleton of a hunter-gatherer in Indonesia that has a “distinct human lineage” never found anywhere in the world.
The relatively intact fossil, which belonged to a 17- or 18-year-old adolescent, was buried in a fetal position within Leang Panning, a limestone cave in South Sulawesi.
It was found among the artifacts of the Toalean people, an early hunter-gatherer culture in the region. The remains are the first known skeleton of a Toalean.
The study, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, was a collaboration between Indonesian and international researchers. The excavation began in 2015.
“This is the first time that anyone has reported on the discovery of ancient human DNA from the vast island region between mainland Asia and Australia,” said Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at the Australian Research Center for Human Evolution at Griffith University in Brisbane, who he co-led the investigation, he told AFP on Friday.
Brumm referred to an area stretching from Kalimantan and Lombok to the western tip of Papua that scientists know as Wallacea.
The researchers found that the excavation was particularly challenging because DNA can be easily degraded in tropical climates.
“It is infrequent to find ancient human DNA in the humid tropics, which is why it is such a lucky discovery,” Brumm said.
DNA analysis revealed that the woman was part of a population group related to modern-day Papuans and indigenous Australians.
However, the genome is also linked to a previously unknown divergent human lineage found nowhere else in the world.
The research challenges previous theories about the arrival times of different groups of humans to the region.
“This shows how little we understand about early human history in the Wallacean Islands of Indonesia,” Brumm said.