Prehistoric foragers and farmers in south-east Asia: Renewed investigations at Niah Cave, Sarawak

Graeme Barker*, Huw Barton, Paul Beavitt, Michael Bird, Patrick Daly, Chris Doherty, David Gilbertson, Chris Hunt, John Krigbaum, Helen Lewis, Jessica Manser, Sue McClaren, Victor Paz, Phil Piper, Brian Pyatt, Ryan Rabett, Tim Reynolds, Jim Rose, Garry Rushworth, Mark Stephens

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    74 Citations (Scopus)


    The paper describes the initial results from renewed investigations at Niah Cave in Sarawak on the island of Borneo, famous for the discovery in 1958 of the c. 40,000-year old 'Deep Skull'. The archaeological sequences from the West Mouth and the other entrances of the cave complex investigated by Tom and Barbara Harrisson and other researchers have potential implications for three major debates regarding the prehistory of south-east Asia: the timing of initial settlement by anatomically modern humans; the means by which they subsisted in the late Pleistocene and early Holocene; and the timing, nature, and causation of the transition from foraging to farming. The new project is informing on all three debates. The critical importance of the Niah stratigraphies was commonly identified - including by Tom Harrisson himself - as because the site provided a continuous sequence of occupation over the past 40,000 years. The present project indicates that Niah was first used at least 45,000 years ago, and probably earlier; that the subsequent Pleistocene and Holocene occupations were highly variable in intensity and character; and that in some periods, perhaps of significant duration, the caves may have been more or less abandoned. The cultural sequence that is emerging from the new investigations may be more typical of cave use in tropical rainforests in south-east Asia than the Harrisson model.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)147-164
    Number of pages18
    JournalProceedings of the Prehistoric Society
    Publication statusPublished - 2002

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Archaeology
    • Archaeology


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