March 12, 1998 in Nation/World

Human Ancestors Sailed Seas 800,000 Years Ago Tools Found On Island Date To Homo Erectus Period

Malcolm Ritter Associated Press
 

Stone tools on an Indonesian island show that human ancestors crossed large stretches of water more than 800,000 years ago - much earlier than scientists had been able to show before, researchers say.

The age of the tools indicates that Homo erectus reached the island of Flores sometime between 800,000 years and 900,000 years ago, researchers said. That meant crossing at least 12 miles of water, probably on bamboo rafts, archaeologist Mike Morwood said.

The work suggests Homo erectus had better mental, technological and linguistic abilities than generally realized, said Morwood, of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia.

Previously, the earliest widely accepted evidence of major water crossing was the colonization of Australia from eastern Indonesia by anatomically modern humans between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago, he and colleagues wrote in today’s issue of the journal Nature.

The stone tools were probably used for woodworking, Morwood said. Although no Homo erectus remains have been found with them yet, their age suggests erectus made them, the researchers said.

G. Philip Rightmire, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, said erectus in that part of the world has been thought to be less advanced than erectus in Africa. He called that a bad rap and said the new finding will “clear the record.”

Rightmire said he wasn’t surprised by the new finding. The species was already known to have traveled from Africa to Java, he said.

The crossing to Flores is “just another accomplishment to chalk up in the Homo erectus column,” he said.


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