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40,000 years of adapting to sea-level change on Alor Island

40,000 years of adapting to sea-level change on Alor Island

Marine shell and coral fishing (at left) and ornamentation (at right) technologies from Makpan.

Full article issued by the Australian National University.

ARC-supported researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) have led the excavation of a cave - called Makpan - on the Indonesian island of Alor. 

Shells, fish bones and fishhooks found in the cave show how people lived and were rapidly adapting to climate change as they made their way towards Australia tens of thousands of years ago.

Makpan witnessed a series of massive sea level highs and lows during its 43,000 years of human occupation, largely due to the climactic extremes of the last Ice Age. 

According to Dr Shimona Kealy from ANU, analysis of artefacts found at Makpan show how inventive and adaptive its early residents were.

"When people first arrived at Makpan, they came in low numbers," Dr Kealy said.

"At this time the cave was close to the coast - as it is today - and this early community lived on a diet of shellfish, barnacles and sea urchin, with sea urchins in particular eaten in large numbers,"  Dr Kealy says.

ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor Sue O'Connor, says around 12,000 years ago people were enjoying a "smorgasbord of seafood".

"It is no surprise the site sees significant evidence for fishing at this time, not just the bones of a wide variety of fish and shark species, but also in the form of shell fishhooks in different shapes and sizes," Professor O'Connor says.

The study was supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH).


Marine shell and coral fishing technologies from Makpan. Image Credit: Dr Shimona Kealy

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