Rare Late Pleistocene-early Holocene human mandibles from the Niah Caves (Sarawak, Borneo)

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Curnoe, Darren
Datan, Ipoi
Zhao, Jian-xin
Ung, Charles Leh Moi
Aubert, Maxime
Sauffi, Mohammed S
Mei, Goh Hsiao
Mendoza, Raynold
Tacon, Paul SC
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2018
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Abstract

The skeletal remains of Late Pleistocene-early Holocene humans are exceptionally rare in island Southeast Asia. As a result, the identity and physical adaptations of the early inhabitants of the region are poorly known. One archaeological locality that has historically been important for understanding the peopling of island Southeast Asia is the Niah Caves in the northeast of Borneo. Here we present the results of direct Uranium-series dating and the first published descriptions of three partial human mandibles from the West Mouth of the Niah Caves recovered during excavations by the Harrissons in 1957. One of them (mandible E/B1 100") is somewhat younger than the ‘Deep Skull’ with a best dating estimate of c30-28 ka (at 2σ), while the other two mandibles (D/N5 42–48" and E/W 33 24–36") are dated to a minimum of c11.0–10.5 ka (at 2σ) and c10.0–9.0 ka (at 2σ). Jaw E/B1 100" is unusually small and robust compared with other Late Pleistocene mandibles suggesting that it may have been ontogenetically altered through masticatory strain under a model of phenotypic plasticity. Possible dietary causes could include the consumption of tough or dried meats or palm plants, behaviours which have been documented previously in the archaeological record of the Niah Caves. Our work suggests a long history back to before the LGM of economic strategies involving the exploitation of raw plant foods or perhaps dried and stored meat resources. This offers new insights into the economic strategies of Late Pleistocene-early Holocene hunter-gatherers living in, or adjacent to, tropical rainforests.

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PLoS One

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13

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6

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© 2018 Curnoeet al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproductionin any medium,provided the original author and source are credited.

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Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas

Archaeological science

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