Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences


There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest Homo sapiens emerged from Africa episodically with at least one of these early dispersals reaching Southeast Asia and Australia; however our understanding of how, when and where this took place is still evolving. Multiple fossil sites place H. sapiens in Southeast Asia and Sunda (the Pleistocene continent now comprising the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Java, and Bali) by Marine Isotope Stage 4 (MIS 4, 71–57 ka). Archaeological evidence for an MIS 4 human presence in Sahul (the Pleistocene continent now comprising Australia and New Guinea) exists at sites in a restricted geographic region in Western Arnhem Land, northern-central Australia. During the Late Pleistocene, the vast Wallacean archipelago separated Sunda and Sahul, requiring a maritime dispersal to reach Sahul from mainland Asia. There are two main migration corridors through Wallacea (termed the northern and southern routes), with computational modelling suggesting dual migration events occurred at the Bird’s Head of New Guinea (northern gateway region) and northwest Australia (southern gateway region), with genetic and disease data supporting distinct populations. In contrast to the Sunda and Sahul evidence, the earliest documentation of H. sapiens in Wallacea dates to mid-Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS 3, 57–29 ka), lagging behind the continents to the east and west. With over 1600 islands in the archipelago, the search for archaeological and fossil sites with an early-MIS 3 and MIS 4 record is laborious, with many regions still archaeologically unknown. To complicate matters, large portions of both Sunda and Sahul have experienced marine inundation, drowning much of the archaeological record. Additionally, excavations at many of the known archaeological sites in both Wallacea and Australia occurred some time ago, and their potential to hold evidence for early occupation may warrant reinvestigation.

This thesis addresses the overarching question: “What are the potential causes of the chronological lag seen between the Sunda and north-central Australian evidence (MIS 4) and Wallacea and the remainder of Sahul (MIS 3)?”

FoR codes (2008)

2101 ARCHAEOLOGY, 210102 Archaeological Science, 210103 Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas, 210104 Archaeology of Australia (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander)



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.