Findings: Timor shows the way to Oz

April 19, 2002

Australia was first colonised by humans between 55,000 and 65,000 years ago. But how they got there remains unsolved, writes Caroline Davis.

One of the most promising routes proposed was through the Wallacean Islands and Timor. In the 1960s, British archaeologist Ian Glover excavated East Timor caves and found evidence of human habitation 13,000 years ago, but after the Indonesian invasion of the island in 1975, research was halted.

In June 2000, Matthew Spriggs and Sue O'Connor from the Australian National University, with Peter Veth of James Cook University, returned to East Timor, nine months after Indonesian forces left. They have excavated three sites.

The team targeted Lene Hara, a site at which Portuguese archaeologists 35 years ago found stone artefacts that did not match the tool type found elsewhere on the island.

They believe the site was a transit camp between coastal and inland resources, and discovered surprisingly early stone tools, shell and bone. Professor Spriggs believes that there may be older sites.

A return visit turned up a stone-lined oven, which they calculated as 3,000 years old. Underneath was a complete dog skeleton. Professor Spriggs said that dingoes were introduced to Australia about 3,500 years ago, maybe via dogs brought from Timor. The skeleton could be the mother of the modern dingo.

The research appears in the journal Antiquity .

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