First ancient human DNA from the gateway between Asia and Australia

When Griffith University archaeologist Adam Brumm heard from local villagers on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi about a vast cave used to house local games of badminton, his scientific spidey-senses started to tingle.

Brumm, from Griffith’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, specialises in the archaeology of the region known as Wallacea, the cluster of islands between Borneo and New Guinea which are the seafaring gateway between Asia and Australia. He intuited that a cave of that size would have been attractive to ancient humans living on the island, and could potentially unravel the secrets of one of the region’s most mysterious peoples.

He visited the cave, known as Leang Panninge (“bat cave”) in 2013, but was unable to carry out extensive investigations. Then, in 2015, his colleagues from Indonesia’s University of Hasanuddin went back and made a startling discovery.

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