The relatively intact fossil, which belonged to a 17- or 18-year-old teenager, was buried in a fetal position inside Leang Panninge, a limestone cave in southern Sulawesi. It has been found among the artifacts of the Toalean people, one of the region’s earliest hunter-gatherer cultures. These remains are the first known skeleton of a Toalean inhabitant.
Published on Wednesday, 25, in the journal Nature, the study was a collaboration between Indonesian and international researchers. Excavation started in 2015.
Brumm refers to an area stretching from Kalimantan and Lombok to far-western Papua, known to scientists as Wallacea. According to the researchers, this excavation was particularly challenging because DNA can easily degrade in the tropical climate.
“It’s very rare to find ancient human DNA in the humid tropics, so it’s such a happy discovery,” said Brumm.
The DNA analysis revealed that the young woman was part of a population group related to the Papuan and Indigenous Australians of the present day. The genome is also linked to a previously unknown divergent human lineage that has not yet been found anywhere else in the world.
In doing so, the research challenges previous theories about the arrival times of different groups of humans in the region. “This shows how little we know about the beginnings of human history in the Wallacea Islands of Indonesia,” noted Brumm.