It is widely accepted in palenotology circles that people were living in Australia at least 40,000 years ago and perhaps as early as 60,000 years ago. New Guinea was first settled about 40,000 years ago, around the same times as Australia. One could easily assume that people were living in Indonesia before this time because likely people traveled through Indonesia to get to Australia and New Guinea.

Evidence of human habitation, estimated at around 33,000 year old, has also been found at Golo and Wetef Island (northwest of New Guinea), coastal Sulawesi, the northern coast of New Guinea, the Bismark Archipelago (northeast of New Guinea), and the northern Solomon Islands (southeast of New Guinea),

The oldest evidence of human habitation on Sumatra is stone tools and shells dated to 11,000 B.C. found north of Medan along the Strait of Malacca. In the northern Maluku and Papua region, there is evidence of long-distance trade (for example, in obsidian, used for making cutting tools), deliberate horticulture, and the transport of plants (bananas, taro, palms) and animals (wallabies, flying squirrels) used as food sources between 20,000 and about 9,000 years ago. Possibly these communities also used sails and outriggers on their boats to make them seaworthy.

Early Man Reaches Australia Via Indonesia

Some of the earliest evidence of modern humans outside of Africa and the Middle East is not in Asia or Europe but in Australia. There is evidence of human habitation at Malakunaja in northern Australia dated to 50,000 years ago and evidence of human habitation at Lake Mungo in southern Australia dated to 45,000 years ago. The descendants of these modern humans remained genetically isolated until fair recently.

The evidence that the first people arrived in Australia at least by 45,000 years ago is strong. There is some pretty good evidence that they arrived 75,000 years ago or earlier. Even if we take the 50,000 year figure that means that people arrived in Australia more than 25,000 years before people arrived in the Americas and Lascaux caves were painted in France. The oldest known Aboriginal artifacts, dated between 43,000 and 47,000, are stone tools found at Cranebrook Terrace in Sydney. Many sites have been dated at 35,000 to 40,000 years ago.

DNA research backs up the theory that early man arrived in Australia 55,000 years ago. Once there they evolved in relative isolation, developing genetic characteristics and technology found nowhere else until the arrival of the first European settlers. DNA samples from Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians from New Guinea taken in by University of Cambridge researchers in the mid 2000s indicates they share genetic features linking them and other Eurasians to the exodus from Africa. Toomas Kivisild, one of the author of the Cambridge study, told the Times of London, “The evidence points to the relative insolation after the initial arrival, which would mean any significant developments in skeletal form and tool use were not influenced by outside sources.”

If these dates hold up and no older modern man fossils are found in Europe, it means that modern man made its way its way from across Asia and took boats to Australia some 30,000 years before they traversed a much shorter distance to Europe. One explanation for the delay in occupying Europe is the presence of Neanderthals there.

Low Sea Levels and the Modern Man Migration to Australia

It appears that modern man reached Australia before it reached Europe. About 65,000 years ago, in the middle of a major ice age, glaciers covered nearly 17 million square miles of the Earth, including much of northern Europe and Canada, and sea levels were more than 400 feet lower than what they are today. Much of Europe was covered by ice. In southern Asia and western Oceania, islands and land masses that are now separated by ocean water were connected by land bridges. The shores of Australia, for example, extended out several hundred miles further than they do today.

Ancient aboriginal myths say the continent's original ancestors came from the north and west from across the sea. The first Australians most likely arrived on foot by crossing a land bridge that connected Australia with New Guinea.

Java, Bali, Sumatra and the Philippines were connected to Southeast Asia by land bridges 65,000 years ago but even during the maximum period of glaciation Australia, New Guinea and the western island of Indonesia were isolated by waters of Java Trench and North Australian and Weber basins. Even when the sea levels were at their lowest there was 50 miles of sea between Indonesia-Southeast Asia and Australia-new Guinea.

Early Modern Man Takes Boats to Australia from Timor?

The earliest evidence of humans in Australia suggests that some from of boatbuilding had been developed at that time. Although the earliest inhabitants may have walked from New Guinea at some point they would have had to use some sort of boat to get across the Java Trench which created a water barrier between Indonesia and New Guinea.

It seems likely that the first human inhabitants of Australia arrived from Timor, 55 miles from Australia, when Australia’s shore stretched further north during the ice age. To reach Australia would have involved traveling in the open sea with no view of land. It seems unlikely that early swam the distance.

Some scientists speculate that early homo sapiens might have crossed the open ocean in rafts made of bamboo logs. "Bamboo makes sea travel wonderful," anthropologist Alan Thorne told National Geographic. "You don't have any waves breaking over you---you just sort of flex over them." He and other scientists have re-created log and bamboo crafts and found them to seaworthy enough to make a 50 mile trip.

Hominids Cross the Wallace Line

Stone flake tools, found near a stegodons (ancient elephant), dated to 840,000 years ago, were found in the Soa Basin on Indonesian island of Flores. The tools are thought to have belonged to Homo Erectus. They only way to get the island is by boat, through sometimes turbulent seas, which implies Homo erectus built seaworthy rafts or some other kind of vessel. This discovery is regarded with caution but may mean that early hominids may have cross the Wallace Line 650,000 years earlier than previously thought.

During several ice ages when sea levels dropped Indonesia was connected to the Asian continent. It is believed that Homo erectus arrived in Indonesia during one of the ice ages.

The Wallace Line is an invisible biological barrier described by and named after the British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace. Running along the water between the Indonesia islands of Bali and Lombok and between Borneo and Sulawesi, it separates the species found in Australia, New Guinea and the eastern islands of Indonesia from those found in western Indonesia, the Philippines and the Southeast Asia.

Because of the Wallace Line Asian animals such as elephants, orangutans and tigers never ventured further east than Bali, and Australian animals such as kangaroos, emus, cassowaries, wallabies and cockatoos never made it to Asia. Animals from both continents are found in some parts of Indonesia.

The first people to cross the Wallace line from Bali to Lombok, Indonesia, scientists speculate, arrived in a kind of paradise free of predators and competitors. Crustaceans and mollusks could be collected from tidal flats and pygmy elephants unafraid of man could be easily hunted. When food supplies ran low, the early inhabitants moved on to the next island, and the next until the finally reached Australia.

The discovery of the Hobbits in Flores is thought to confirm that Homo Erectus crossed the Wallace Line. See Hobbits.

Niah Cave

The oldest evidence of human habitation in Southeast Asia is a Niah Cave in northern Borneo. Modern humans lived there 40,000 years ago and ate orangutans, based on the presence of charred bones found in the cave. A skull found in Niah Cave in the 1950s was first described as resembling Melanesians and native Australians. This supports the notion that earlier human species living in the region were absorbed via interbreeding as Homo sapiens spread out of Africa. Ancient genetic markers are found in indigenous groups in the Andaman Inlands, in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea and among Australian aborigines.

In the 1950s and 60s, Niah Cave was the focus of several intense and active archaeological field seasons led by Tom Harrisson, Curator of Sarawak Museum, who excavated a large area on the northern side of the West Mouth. The excavations were admirable for their time, particularly given the considerable logistical difficulties that had to be overcome because of the isolation of the site and the difficulties of working in tropical environments. [Source: ABC.net; Barker G, The Niah Caves Project: Preliminary report on the first (2000) season , The Sarawak Museum Journal, Vol 55(76), December 2000]

Their most notable discovery was a human skull (the so-called 'Deep Skull') uncovered in a deep trench dubbed 'Hell Trench' by Harrisson's excavators because of the heat and humidity in this particular part of the cave's entrance. The skull was approximately at a level where stone tools had been found previously together with charcoal that yielded a radiocarbon date of around 40,000 years ago. But there are doubts about the reliability of the data collected and recorded by Harrisson.

40,000 Year Old Cave Art Found in Sulawesi

Remains at Niah Cave show that men have been living on Borneo for a long time. In the karst interior of Borneo are networks of caves with rock art and hand prints, some of the dated to 12,000 years ago. More significantly, rock art and hand prints found in caves in Sulawesi have been dated to nearly 40,000 years ago. Deborah Netburn wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Archaeologists working in Indonesia say prehistoric hand stencils and intricately rendered images of primitive animals were created nearly 40,000 years ago. These images, discovered in limestone caves on the island of Sulawesi just east of Borneo, are about the same age as the earliest known art found in the caves of northern Spain and southern France. The findings were published in the journal Nature. "We now have 40,000-year-old rock art in Spain and Sulawesi," said Adam Brumm, a research fellow at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, and one of the lead authors of the study. "We anticipate future rock art dating will join these two widely separated dots with similarly aged, if not earlier, art." [Source: Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2014 ~\~]

“The ancient Indonesian art was first reported by Dutch archaeologists in the 1950s but had never been dated until now. For decades researchers thought that the cave art was made during the pre-Neolithic period, about 10,000 years ago. "I can say that it was a great -- and very nice -- surprise to read their findings," said Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the study. "'Wow!' was my initial reaction to the paper." ~\~

The researchers said they had no preconceived ideas of how old the rock art was when they started on this project about three years ago. They just wanted to know the date for sure. To do that, the team relied on a relatively new technique called U-series dating, which was also used to establish minimum dates of rock art in Western Europe. We have seen a lot of surprises in paleoanthropology over the last 10 years, but this one is among my favorites. - Wil Roebroeks, Leiden University archaeologist

First they scoured the caves for images that had small cauliflower-like growths covering them -- eventually finding 14 suitable works, including 12 hand stencils and two figurative drawings. The small white growths they were looking for are known as cave popcorn, and they are made of mineral deposits that get left in the wake of thin streams of calcium-carbonate-saturated water that run down the walls of a cave. These deposits also have small traces of uranium in them, which decays over time to a daughter product called thorium at a known rate. "The ratio between the two elements acts as a kind of geological clock to date the formation of the calcium carbonate deposits," explained Maxime Aubert of the University of Wollongong in Australia's New South Wales state, the team's dating expert. ~\~

“Using a rotary tool with a diamond blade, Aubert cut into the cave popcorn and extracted small samples that included some of the pigment of the art. The pigment layer of the sample would be at least as old as the first layer of mineral deposit that grew on top of it. Using this method, the researchers determined that one of the hand stencils they sampled was made at least 39,900 years ago and that a painting of an animal known as a pig deer was at least 35,400 years old. In Europe, the oldest known cave painting was of a red disk found in a cave in El Castillo, Spain, that has a minimum age of 40,800 years. The earliest figurative painting, of a rhinoceros, was found in the Chauvet Cave in France; it goes back 38,827 years. ~\~

“The unexpected age of the Indonesian paintings suggests two potential narratives of how humans came to be making art at roughly the same time in these disparate parts of the world, the authors write. It is possible that the urge to make art arose simultaneously but independently among the people who colonized these two regions. Perhaps more intriguing, however, is the possibility that art was already part of an even earlier prehistoric human culture that these two groups brought with them as they migrated to new lands. One narrative the study clearly contradicts: That tens of thousands of years ago prehistoric humans were making art in Europe and nowhere else "The old 'Europe, the birthplace of art' story was a naive one, anyway," said Roebroeks. "We have seen a lot of surprises in paleoanthropology over the last 10 years, but this one is among my favorites." ~\~

Rock Art Caves in Borneo

After an expedition to a site called Ilas Kenceng in East Kalimantan, Luc-Henri Fage wrote in National Geographic, “During the past decade we've discovered about 1,500 negative handprints in 30 caves in East Kalimantan. Most of them were found not in the lowest caves beside rivers—which we know from archaeological evidence were used as dwellings as long as 12,000 years ago—nor in the caves higher up, where we discovered bones and ceramic jars from much later funerary rites. Instead, they were mainly found in the loftiest, hardest to reach caves, leading me to believe they were probably connected to special rituals open to a limited number of participants. [Source: Luc-Henri Fage, National Geographic, August 2005 ]

“As we know from studies of many cultures, such secluded, forbidden spots would be perfect for the instruction and initiation of traditional healers, or shamans, often involving fasting, dancing, singing, storytelling, the inducing of trances, or the painting of symbols. The large number of hands found in some caves may record the training of new shamans, maybe only one in each generation, over thousands of years.

“Handprints are a common motif in prehistoric rock art around the world. But unlike hands discovered at sites in France, Australia, and elsewhere, many in Kalimantan caves are decorated with dots, dashes, and other patterns, the significance of which is yet unknown. In some designs the hands are linked to other hands, or to drawings of people or animals, by long curving lines. Luc-Henri Fage sketched one design, which we called the "tree of life," from a painting in Gua Tewet. This design may depict the ties that bind individuals, families, territories, or spirits to one another. A similar pattern appears in a painting from Ilas Kenceng, which may show a shaman's path between the world of the living and the world of spirits or of the dead, perhaps hidden behind the cave's walls.

“A painting in Gua Tewet records a shaman's trek into the spirit world, Chazine says. The lizard in the center represents the shaman. The jagged line under the lizard—a sort of stairway—stands for the shaman's difficult path. The smooth lines on the right symbolize the successful completion of the journey, when the shaman attains an altered state of consciousness that affects all parts of his body and allows him to communicate with spirits. The hand stencils themselves evoke traditional healing rituals in which a shaman lays his hands on a sick person, then sprays medicine from his mouth onto the patient to cure him.

“I find a remarkable similarity between the act of creating these handprints and traditional healing practices in Borneo. To create the design, a painter would place a hand on the wall, then spray it by mouth with pulverized pigments made of ochre. A traditional healer would do much the same, laying hands on the affected part of a patient's body, then expelling his breath to spray on therapeutic ingredients. Both processes resulted in a kind of magic.

“Near the end of our expedition, after we'd spent many hours photographing, measuring, and documenting the paintings at Ilas Kenceng, I woke up one morning on my groundsheet in the mouth of the cave. The forest below was bathed in a soft morning mist, monkeys were screaming, and birds swirled in circles, feeding on insects. High above me in an alcove was a magical piece of art, six hand stencils spread like a bouquet. Each print was delicate, but together they seemed vibrant with energy as if they'd been created only moments ago. In 2000 a piece of calcite covering a hand in another part of the cave had been tested in a mass spectrometer at France's National Center for Scientific Research. It proved to be at least 10,000 years old, meaning that the hand beneath the calcite had to be even older.”

Expeditions to Find Ancient Rock Art of Borneo

Luc-Henri Fage wrote in National Geographic, “A few steps ahead of me on the jungle trail, my Dayak friend and guide, Ham, suddenly stopped. "Careful, Luc, a snake!" he said. The rain had fogged my glasses, but I could still make out the big bluish black cobra he'd almost stepped on. A snakebite could have been deadly, since we didn't have any serum with us, and the closest clinic was two days behind us by foot, and another two days by boat. We stood in silence, listening to the patter of rain on the tropical forest as the cobra unfurled itself and disappeared into the bushes. [Source: Luc-Henri Fage, National Geographic, August 2005 ]

“We were heading for Ilas Kenceng, the most beautiful and inaccessible of all the caves we'd discovered in Borneo. When we first saw it in 1998, we had only a few hours to study its mysterious rock art before we had to hike out, leaving us with many unanswered questions: Who made these images? When? And why? Now we were on our way back to look for more clues. There were 35 of us in all on our French-Indonesian team, including archaeologists, cavers, guides, a film crew, canoe paddlers, porters, and a cook. We'd begun our expedition a month before on the coast of the Makassar Strait in East Kalimantan in the Indonesian part of Borneo. Pushing off into the chocolaty Bungalun River in ten heavily laden pirogues, we'd headed for a region where there are no roads or villages, only endless jungle and jagged limestone peaks. Our plan was to follow the Bungalun to its confluence with the Marang River, then continue north into the mountains, stopping along the way to investigate a string of caves with similar rock art.

Sitting on the duckboards of my precarious little boat, its gunwales inches above the waterline, I'd thought back to my first expedition here 17 years ago. A documentary filmmaker and magazine editor, I had set out on a 700-mile (1127 kilometers) trek from one end of Kalimantan to the other with a few caving friends. Halfway across the island, taking shelter under a rock, we found ancient charcoal drawings on the ceiling. When I returned to France, I was surprised to learn that no such rock art had ever been reported in Kalimantan.

“I returned in 1992 with Jean-Michel Chazine, a French archaeologist and specialist in Oceanian prehistory. Two years later we discovered prehistoric paintings in East Kalimantan. In 1995 Pindi Setiawan, an Indonesian anthropologist, joined our team, and together, year after year, we found dozens of caves with paintings throughout the region, some with unique designs hinting at a mysterious forgotten people.

To reach our target caves this year, we followed the meandering river along the jagged peaks of the Marang Mountains. There we set up camp beside a clear spring, stringing hammocks between trees. For his dinner, our cook roasted six-inch-long (15.2 centimeters) scorpions, which he said were good for virility. The rest of us preferred rice. The wind kicked up just before dark, shaking leaves from the forest canopy, and a tropical storm pelted down. Once it had passed, the red ants swarmed in, their bite as painful as wasp stings. Jufri, a Bugi guide who always seemed to think of everything, drove them away by lighting just enough gasoline under our hammocks. The next morning, back in our pirogues, we motored toward Gua Tewet, a cave named for one of our most experienced guides. For the past 40 years, Tewet had been searching caves in the region for edible birds' nests, a delicacy in great demand at Singapore and Hong Kong restaurants catering to wealthy Chinese. Several years ago he'd remembered the cave and told us about it.

Exploring and Studying Ancient Rock Art of Borneo

Luc-Henri Fage wrote in National Geographic, “Leaving the boats at the river's edge, we hoisted our packs and scrambled up a 500-foot (152.4 meters) cliff of jagged rock to the mouth of the cave. Our muscles were burning, but the climb was worth it. The paintings inside were as breathtaking as when we'd first seen them in 1999: some 200 stenciled hands, remarkably preserved, along with drawings of animals and humans. About half the hands were covered with dots, lines, chevrons, or other patterns. I counted more than 50 combinations. "They look like tattoos," I said to Chazine. "Or maybe body painting," he replied. Such practices still occur in Borneo and elsewhere to identify an individual's membership or status. At the center of the ceiling was the cave's tour de force: 11 hands, each decorated with a different pattern, linked in a design that evoked a family tree (pages 32-4). Not far away, two hands, connected by a broken line, framed the figure of a lizard, or perhaps a crocodile. [Source: Luc-Henri Fage, National Geographic, August 2005 ]

"We're dealing with shamanistic practices here, I'm sure of it," Chazine said, "though I don't know what kind. This jagged line evokes passage from the harsh living world into the world of spirits, which only a shaman can enter and return from." Chazine had not come back to Kalimantan just to marvel at such paintings, however. As an archaeologist his job was to learn who created this art and when. Until now he hadn't found any signs of occupation in the best painted caves—no pottery or animal bones from campfires. But that didn't surprise him. In his mind, a lofty eagle's nest like this was better suited for sacred rituals. "Does one eat in a cathedral?" he asked.

“Instead Chazine had chosen a cave closer to the river to excavate first. That's where he and his team went the next day. With its huge porch over-looking the water, Gua Tengkorak, or "cave of the skulls," was large enough to hold dozens of people. Indeed, ceramic funeral pots from a more recent culture had been found at the foot of one wall, along with charred human and animal bones. For the next two weeks, Chazine, Julien Espagne, a French doctoral student, and Indonesian archaeologists Gunadi Mum and Nasruddin, would carefully sift through layers of earth, searching for artifacts. Two samples of charcoal were later dated back to 12,000 years ago. Such discoveries may eventually indicate that the people who left these prints and drawings were related to the Aboriginals who'd earlier migrated to Australia and created similar rock art.

“Leaving the archaeologists to their excavations, I set out on foot for Ilas Kenceng, some nine miles away, with Ham, Tewet, our film team, and Serge Caillault, my caving partner. By the time we reached the cave, however, Serge had developed a bad fever. This worried me, since my friend Guillaume Artur du Plessis, had died from leptospirosis during our trek in 1988. I wanted to evacuate Serge immediately. But when the rescue helicopter arrived, the pilot at first didn't want to put down in our makeshift landing zone. Finally he did, picking up Serge, who was later diagnosed with typhoid fever and treated with antibiotics. He pulled through just fine.

Social and Cultural Developments of Early People in Indonesia

About 10,000 years ago, the last ice age began to recede and seas rose, eventually creating from the Sunda Shelf the archipelago we know today. The next six or seven millennia saw the development of cultural and social characteristics that have been of lasting significance down to the present. Examples include the use throughout the archipelago of languages belonging to the same family (Austronesian); the spread of rice agriculture and sedentary life, and of ceramic and (later) metal technologies; the expansion of long-distance seaborne travel and trade; and the persistence of diverse but interacting societies with widely varying levels of technological and cultural complexity. [Source: Library of Congress *]

There is no entirely secure understanding of how and why these changes took place. The most widely held view, based heavily on historical linguistics, argues that about 6,500 years ago peoples whom scholars identify linguistically and culturally as “Austronesians” dispersed out of present-day southern China and Taiwan. In a fairly rapid process, they spread throughout the archipelago from the Philippines (which they reached by 3,000 BC) to Indonesia (2,000– 500 BC), and then farther west as far as Madagascar and farther east throughout the Pacific Ocean. Prehistory expert Peter Bellwood has characterized this dispersal as “one of the most astonishing bouts of colonization ... in early human history.” *

Recent genetic and paleoecological research has raised a number of challenges to this model, however, among them counterindicative DNA configurations in archipelagic and Pacific populations of both humans and pigs, and indications of forest clearing in Sumatra as early as 5,000 years ago. These challenges suggest a more “entangled” and complicated process of change in which old and new populations, as well as their traditions and technologies, interacted in many different ways over a long period of time. *

Evidence regarding social transformations during this period is at best indirect (and for Java and Sumatra, virtually absent), but causative models from European and continental Asian prehistory seem rarely to apply to the archipelago. Neither knowledge of agriculture nor contact with outsiders always resulted in technological revolution, for example, or rapid alteration in patterns of settlement. Political and economic changes occurred unevenly, and societies—in all likelihood small, animist chieftainships—underwent no fundamental transformation. Thus the archipelago came to be marked by a pattern of broad linguistic and cultural affinities but, at the same time, intricate diversity. Virtually all of Indonesia’s subsequent history has been played out against the background of this remarkable human web.

Negritos and Malays

Indonesians today are, like Malaysians and Filipinos, of Malay origin and are the descendants of migrants that arrived around 4000 B.C. Before them some Indonesian islands were inhabited by pygmy-like Negritos that resemble people still found today in the jungles of Luzon, the Philippines and in peninsular Malaysia. The ones in Indonesia were exterminated some scientists say by tribes resembling Australian Aboriginals.

Only the Semang Negritos of peninsular Malaysia and the Negrito Pygmies of the mountains of Luzon and some islands of the Philippines are survivors of the original hunter-gatherers that inhabited Southeast Asia and the Pacific before the Chinese and Malays arrived in the area. But even these Negritos adopted the Chinese language. The ancestors of the hunter-gatherers lives on in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and other Pacific islands.

The current inhabitants of Indonesia or mostly Malay people, who also inhabit Malaysia and the Philippines They began migrating to Indonesia between 4,000 and 2,500 years ago and spread through the archipelago. They were a seafaring people that also made it as far west as Madagascar.

Early Indigenous People of Southern Southeast Asia

The indigenous groups of peninsular Malaysia can be divided into three ethnicities, the Negritos, the Senois, and the proto-Malays. The first inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula were most probably Negritos— Mesolithic hunters were probably the ancestors of the Semang, an ethnic Negrito group who have a long history in the Malay Peninsula. Because peninsular Malaysia is so close to Sumatra it is not unlikely that they migrated to Sumatra and perhaps elsewhere in Indonesia. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Proto Malays have a more diverse origin, and were settled in Malaysia by 1000BC. Although they show some connections with other inhabitants in Maritime Southeast Asia, some also have an ancestry in Indochina around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 20,000 years ago. Anthropologists support the notion that the Proto-Malays originated from what is today Yunnan, China. This was followed by an early-Holocene dispersal through the Malay Peninsula into the Malay Archipelago. Around 300 BC, they were pushed inland by the Deutero-Malays, an Iron Age or Bronze Age people descended partly from the Chams of Cambodia and Vietnam. The first group in the peninsula to use metal tools, the Deutero-Malays were the direct ancestors of today's Malaysian Malays, and brought with them advanced farming techniques. The Malays remained politically fragmented throughout the Malay archipelago, although a common culture and social structure was shared.

Anthropologists traced a group of newcomers Proto Malay seafarers who migrated from Yunnan to Malaysia. Negrito and other Aborigines were forced by late comers into the hills. In this period, people learned to dress, to cook, to hunt with advanced stone weapons. Communication techniques also improved.

Archaeological finds from the Lenggong valley in Perak. Dating to 10,000-5,000 years ago- Neolithic (New Stone Age), show that people were making stone tools and using jewellery. In the Bronze Age, 2,500 years ago, more people arrived, including new tribes and seafarers. The Malay Peninsula became the crossroads in maritime trades of the ancient age. Seafarers who came to Malaysia's shores included Indians, Egyptians, peoples of the Middle East, Javanese and Chinese. Ptolemy named the Malay Peninsula the Golden Chersonese.


The Senoi are a group of slash-and-burn farmers that live in the rain-forested mountains and foothills of the Main mountains range which bisects the Malaya peninsula, primarily in northeast Pahang and southeast Perak. There are about 20,000 of them. Their language is classified as members of the Aslian Branch of the Austroasiatic group of languages. Most also speak some Malay and there are many Malay loan words in Senoi languages. Many have never traveled further than a few kilometers from the place they were born. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

The Senoi are believed to have arrived o the Malaya Peninsula about 8000 to 6000 B.C., perhaps mixing with the Semang people’s who were already there. The Malays arrived millennia later. At first they traded peacefully and mixed with the Senoi but as they grew powerful they carved Malaysia into small states. The Senoi became dependants and second class citizens. When the Malays converted to Islam they labeled the Senoi as pagans and enslaved them, murdered adults and kidnaped children under the age of nine. The slave practice didn’t end until the 1930s. The policy of the Malaysian has been to “civilize” the Senoi by converting them to Islam and making them ordinary people.

The Senoi appear to be a composite group, with approximately half of the maternal DNA lineages tracing back to the ancestors of the Semang and about half to later ancestral migrations from Indochina. Scholars suggest they are descendants of early Austroasiatic-speaking agriculturalists, who brought both their language and their technology to the southern part of the peninsula approximately 4,000 years ago. They united and coalesced with the indigenous population.

See Malaysia.

Semang (Negritos)

The Semang are a Negrito group of hunter-gatherers and shifting cultivators that live in the lowland rain forests in northern Malaysia and southern Thailand. There are only about 2,000 of them and they are divided into eight groups whose numbers range from about 100 to 850. Most Semang languages are in the Mon-Khmer group or the Aslian Branch of the Austroasiatic group of languages. Most also speak some Malay and there are many Malay loan words in Semang languages. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

Other Negritos groups include the Andaman Islanders, the Veddoid Negritos of Sri Lanka and the Negritos of the Philippines and the Indian Ocean islands. The resemble other dark skinned, frizzy-haired people from Africa, Melanesia and Australia. The handful of undeveloped cultures that reportedly have never waged war includes the Andaman Islanders of India, the Yahgan of Patagonia, the Semai of Malaysia and the Tasaday of the Philippines.

Negritos are of an unknown origin. Some anthologist believe they are descendants of wandering people that "formed an ancient human bridge between Africa and Australia.” Genetic evidence indicates they much more similar to the people around them than had been previously thought. This suggests that Negritos and Asians had the same ancestors but that Negritos developed feature similar to Africans independently or that Asians were much darker and developed lighter skin and Asian features, or both.

The Semang are probably descendants of the Hoabinhian rain forest foragers who inhabited the Malay Peninsula from 10,000 to 3,000 year ago. After the arrival of agriculture about 4,000 years, some became agriculturalists but enough remained hunter gatherers that they survived as such until recent times.

In the early days the Semang may have interacted and traded with the Malay settlers after the first Malays arrived but relations soured when the Malays began taking Semang as slaves. After that many Semang retired into the forests. The Semang and other similar groups became known as the Orang Asli in peninsular Malaysia. Even though they were considered "isolated" they traded rattan, wild rubbers, camphor and oils for goods from China

See Malaysia.

Proto-Malay Models

Also known as Melayu asli (aboriginal Malays) or Melayu purba (ancient Malays), the Proto-Malays are of Austronesian origin and thought to have migrated to the Malay archipelago in a long series of migrations between 2500 and 1500 BC. The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History, has pointed out a total of three theories of the origin of Malays: 1) The Yunnan theory, Mekong river migration (published in 1889) - The theory of Proto-Malays originating from Yunnan is supported by R.H Geldern, J.H.C Kern, J.R Foster, J.R Logen, Slamet Muljana and Asmah Haji Omar. Other evidences that support this theory include: stone tools found in Malay Archipelago are analogous to Central Asian tools, similarity of Malay customs and Assam customs. [Source: Wikipedia +]

2) The New Guinea theory (published in 1965) - The proto-Malays are believed to be seafarers knowledgeable in oceanography and possessing agricultural skills. They moved around from island to island in great distances between modern day New Zealand and Madagascar, and they served as navigation guides, crew and labour to Indian, Arab, Persian and Chinese traders for nearly 2000 years. Over the years they settled at various places and adopted various cultures and religions. +

3) The Taiwan theory (published in 1997) - The migration of a certain group of Southern Chinese occurred 6,000 years ago, some moved to Taiwan (today's Taiwanese aborigines are their descendents), then to the Philippines and later to Borneo (roughly 4,500 years ago) (today's Dayak and other groups). These ancient people also split with some heading to Sulawesi and others progressing into Java, and Sumatra, all of which now speaks languages that belongs to the Austronesian Language family. The final migration was to the Malay Peninsula roughly 3,000 years ago. A sub-group from Borneo moved to Champa in modern-day Central and South Vietnam roughly 4,500 years ago. There are also traces of the Dong Son and Hoabinhian migration from Vietnam and Cambodia. All these groups share DNA and linguistic origins traceable to the island that is today Taiwan, and the ancestors of these ancient people are traceable to southern China. +

The Deutero-Malays are Iron Age people descended partly from the subsequent Austronesian peoples who came equipped with more advanced farming techniques and new knowledge of metals. They are kindred but more Mongolised and greatly distinguished from the Proto-Malays which have shorter stature, darker skin, slightly higher frequency of wavy hair, much higher percentage of dolichocephaly and a markedly lower frequency of the epicanthic fold. The Deutero-Malay settlers were not nomadic compared to their predecessors, instead they settled and established kampungs which serve as the main units in the society. These kampungs were normally situated on the riverbanks or coastal areas and generally self-sufficient in food and other necessities. By the end of the last century BC, these kampungs beginning to engage in some trade with the outside world. The Deutero-Malays are considered the direct ancestors of present-day Malay people. Notable Proto-Malays of today are Moken, Jakun, Orang Kuala, Temuan and Orang Kanaq. +

Proto Malays, from Yunnan, China?

Anthropologists have traced the migration of Proto Malays, who were seafarers, to some 10,000 years ago when they sailed by boat (canoe or perahu) along the Mekong River from Yunnan to the South China Sea and eventually settled down at various places. The Mekong River is approximately 4180 kilometers in length. It originates in from Tibet and runs through Yunnan province of China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam. [Source: Wikipedia

Inhabitants of early Yunnan may be traced back into prehistory from a homo erectus fossil, 'Yuanmou Man', which was unearthed in the 1960s. In year 221 BC, Qin Shihuang conquered Yunnan and unified China. Yunnan has since become a province of China. They were the ancestors of rice eating peoples, with their culture of cultivating rice spread throughout the entire region. The native name of the Mekong River peoples' home in Yunnan is Xishuangbanna (Sipsongpanna) which literally means "twelve thousand rice fields", it is the home of the Dai minority. Xishuangbanna sits at a lower altitude than most of the Yunnan mountainous ranges. Yunnan women on the street, wearing batik & sarong. Photo taken at the city of Jinghong (2004). Yunnan migration theory

The theory of Proto Malay originating from Yunnan is supported by R.H Geldern, J.H.C Kern, J.R Foster, J.R Logen, Slametmuljana and Asmah Haji Omar. The Proto Malay (Melayu asli) who first arrived possessed agricultural skills while the second wave Deutero Malay (mixed blood) who joined in around 1500 B.C. and dwelled along the coastlines have advanced fishery skills. During the migration, both groups intermarried with peoples of the southern islands, such as those from Java (Indonesian), and also with aboriginal peoples of Australoid, Negrito and Melanesoid origin.

Other evidences that support this theory include: 1) Stone tools found at Malay archipelago are analogous to Central Asian tools. 2) Similarity of Malay customs and Assam customs. 3) Malay language & Cambodian language are kindred languages because the ancestral home of Cambodians originated from the source of Mekong River. The Kedukan Bukit Inscription of A.D. 682 found at Palembang and the modern Yunnan Dai minority's traditional writings belong to the same script family, Pallava, also known as Pallava Grantha. Dai ethnic (or Dai minority) of Yunnan is one of the aboriginal inhabitants of modern Yunnan province of China.

Indonesian ‘Eves’ Colonized Madagascar 1,200 Years Ago

In 2012, scientists announced that several dozen Indonesian women founded the colonization of Madagascar 1,200 years ago. AFP reported: “Anthropologists are fascinated by Madagascar, for the island remained aloof from mankind’s conquest of the planet for thousands of years. It then became settled by mainland Africans but also by Indonesians, whose home is 8,000 kilometers away. [Source: AFP, March 21, 2012 =]

“A team led by molecular biologist Murray Cox of New Zealand’s Massey University delved into DNA for clues to explain the migration riddle. They looked for markers handed down in chromosomes through the maternal line, in DNA samples offered by 266 people from three ethnic Malagasy groups. Twenty-two percent of the samples had a local variant of the “Polynesian motif,” a tiny genetic characteristic that is found among Polynesians, but rarely so in western Indonesia. In one Malagasy ethnic group, one in two of the samples had this marker. If the samples are right, about 30 Indonesian women founded the Malagasy population “with a much smaller, but just as important, biological contribution from Africa,” it says. =

“The study focussed only on mitrochondrial DNA, which is transmitted only through the mother, so it does not exclude the possibility that Indonesian men also arrived with the first women. Computer simulations suggest the settlement began around 830 AD, around the time when Indonesian trading networks expanded under the Srivijaya Empire of Sumatra. The study appears in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.=

“The investigation points to other contributions from Southeast Asia. Linguistically, Madascagar’s inhabitants speak dialects of a language that traces its origins to Indonesia. Most of the lexicon comes from Ma’anyan, a language spoken along the Barito River valley of southeastern Borneo — a remote, inland region — with a smattering of words from Javanese, Malay or Sanskrit. Other evidence of early Indonesian settlement comes in the discovery of outrigger boats, iron tools, musical instruments such as the xylophone and a “tropical food kit,” the cultivation of rice, bananas, yams and taro brought in from across the ocean. Madagascar was settled approximately 1,200 years ago, primarily by a small cohort of Indonesian women, and this Indonesian contribution — of language, culture and genes — continues to dominate the nation of Madagascar even today,” the paper says. =

“How the 30 women got across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar is a big question. One theory is that they came in trading ships, although no evidence has ever been found that women boarded long-distance merchant vessels in Indonesia. Another idea is that Madagascar was settled as a formal trading colony, or perhaps as an ad-hoc center for refugees who had lost land and power during the expansion of the Srivijayan Empire. Yet a third — and more intrepid — hypothesis is that the women were on a boat that made an accidental transoceanic voyage. That notion is supported by seafaring simulations using ocean currents and monsoon weather patterns, says Cox’s team. Indeed, in World War II, wreckage from ships bombed near Sumatra and Java later washed up in Madagascar as well as, in one case, a survivor in a lifeboat.

Chinese Roots of Ancient Indonesians

The ancestors of modern Laotians, Thais and possibly Burmese, Cambodians, Filipinos and Indonesians originated from southern China. The Austronesian family of languages of which all Philippine and Polynesian languages belong most likely originated in China.

Pottery and stone tools of southern Chinese origin dating back to 4000 B.C. had been found in Taiwan. The same artifacts has been found in archeological site sin the Philippines dating back to 3000 B.C. Southern Chinese culture, agriculture and domesticated animals (pigs, chickens and dogs) then spread through the islands of Indonesia reaching the islands north of New Guinea and spread eastward across the uninhabited islands of the Pacific, reaching easter Island (10,000 miles from China) around 500 A.D.

As people of Chinese origin moved across Asia they displaced and mixed with the local people, mostly hunter-gatherers whose tools and weapons were no match against those of the outsiders. Inventions such as the animal harness and iron-making gave the ancient Chinese a technological advantage over its Stone Age neighbors.

It is likely that many of the indigenous people died form diseases introduced by the people from China just as the original inhabitants of America were killed off by European diseases.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Republic of Indonesia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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