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Problems in the Stone Age of South-east Asia Revisited

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2014

T. E. G. Reynolds
Affiliation:
Birkbeck College, Faculty of Continuing Education, University of London, 26 Russel Square, London, WC1. Email: te.reynolds@bbk.ac.uk
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

In the 13 years since ‘Problems in the Stone Age of Southeast Asia’ was published, there has been a number of significant developments. There remains a lack of early cultural material despite the possibility that first occupation of the area may date back as far as 1.8 Myrs. It seems that the first hominins in the region were essentially ‘alithic’ in their adaptation, making the reconstruction of their behaviour extremely difficult. There is also a question as to which hominin was first ‘Out of Africa’ and into Asia and a suggestion that Homo erectus is, in fact, an Asian species that may have migrated west. This has important implications for interpretations of the significance of the so-called ‘Movius Line’. By the time stone tool use does appear regularly in the record, modern humans are present but it is still hard to identify the kinds of directional changes that are associated with the Late Pleistocene elsewhere in the world. The question of when humans were able to exploit tropical forests in the region is also one that recent work explores. The recent discoveries from Flores of stone tools that appear to pre-date the arrival of modern humans, and a possibly associated ‘dwarf’ hominin, Homo floresiensis, all require re-appraisal of the nature of human activity in the region.

Résumé

Au cours des 13 années écoulées depuis la publication de ‘Problèmes à l'âge de pierre en Asie du sud-est’, il y a eu un certain nombre de développements importants. La pénurie de matériel culturel primitive demeure malgré la possibilité que la première occupation de la région remonte à 1,8 millions d'années. Il semble que les premiers hominiens dans la région étaient essentiellement ‘alithiques’ dans leur adaptation, ce qui rend la reconstruction de leur comportement extrèmement difficile. Il reste également la question de savoir quel hominien fut le premier ‘venu d'Afrique’ à s'installer en Asie et l'hypothèse qu'Homo Erectus est, en fait, une espèce asiatique qui aurait pu émigrer vers l'ouest. Ceci a d'importantes implications pour l'interprétation de la soi-disant ‘lignée de Movius’. Au moment où apparaît régulièrement dans les archives l'utilisation des outils en pierre, la présence de l'homme moderne est avérée mais il est encore difficile d'identifier les sortes de changements de direction qu'on associe avec la fin de pléistocène ailleurs dans le monde. La question de savoir quand les humains ont été capables d'exploiter les forêts tropicales de la région est une de celles que de récents travaux explorent. Les récentes découvertes par Flores d'outils en pierre qui semblent pré-dater l'arrivée de l'homme moderne et l'existence possible d'un hominien ‘nain’, Homo Floresiensis, tout ceci nécessite une ré-évaluation de la nature des activités humaines de la région.

Résumen

En los 13 años transcurridos desde la publicación de “Problemas de la Edad de Piedra del Sureste de Asia’, se han producido un numero de desarrollos significativos. A pesar de la posibilidad de que la ocupación de la región se remonte hasta hace 1.8 millones de años, falta aún por descubrir evidencia de la cultura material temprana. Parece que los primeros homíninos de la región fueron esencialmente “alíticos” en su adaptación, lo que hace extremadamente difícil la reconstrucción de su comportamiento. Permanece también la cuestión de qué homínino fue el primero “Fuera de África” y en llegar a Asia, y la sugerencia de que Homo Erectus es, en realidad, una especie asiática que migró hacia el oeste. De ser verdad, habría importantes consecuencias para las interpretaciones de la relevancia de la ‘Línea Movius’. El hombre moderno ya está presente para cuando aparece de manera regular en el registro arqueológico el uso de instrumentos líticos, aunque es aún difícil identificar aquí los tipos de cambios direccionales asociados con el Tardo Pleistoceno en el resto del mundo. Las investigaciones recientes también han explorado si los hombres modernos pudieron explotar las selvas tropicales de la región. Los recientes descubrimientos de Flores, en los que instrumentos líticos que parecen preceder la llegada del hombre moderno, y su posible asociación con un homínino “enano”, el “Homo Floriensis”, requieren una reevaluación de la naturaleza de la actividad humana en la región.

Zusammenfassung

In den 13 Jahren seit der Veröffentlichung von ‘Problems in the Stone Age of Southeast Asia’ gab es eine Reihe bedeutender Entwicklungen. Die erste Landnahme dieser Region kann bis auf 1.8 Millionen Jahre zuröckdatiert werden, obwohl weiterhin fröhes Kulturmaterial fehlt. Die ersten Hominiden scheinen in ihrer Adaption tatsächlich, alithisch' gewesen zu sein, was die Rekonstruktion ihres Verhaltens extrem erschwert. Zudem muss geklärt werden, welcher Hominide der erste ‘Out of Africa’ in Asien war. Hier gibt es die These, dass Homo erectus tatsächlich eine asiatische Spezies ist, die eventuell nach Westen migrierte. Dies hat wichtige Implikationen för die Bedeutung der so genannten ‘Movius Linie’. Ab dem Zeitpunkt, wenn die Nutzung der Steingeräte regelmäßig in den archäologischen Quellen nachgewiesen ist, ist der moderne Mensch nachgewiesen, wobei es aber immer noch schwierig ist alle Veränderungen, die mit dem späten Pleistozän einhergehen, in anderen Teilen der Welt zu identifizieren. Die Frage, wann die Menschen fähig waren den tropischen Regenwald in dieser Region auszubeuten, wird ebenfalls untersucht. Die neuesten Entdeckungen von Steingeräten auf Flores scheinen dem Erscheinen des modernen Menschen voranzugehen. So muss der, mit diesen Funden möglicherweise assoziierte ‘Zwergen’ Hominide – Homo floresiensis – und die menschliche Verhaltensweise in dieser Region neu untersucht werden.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Prehistoric Society 2007

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