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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Toalean Culture (Mesolithic) (Indonesia)
c.6000 BC - AD 500

In archaeological terms the period following the end of the Asian Mal'ta-Buret' and Afontova Gora cultures in Siberia seems to have been largely unremarkable. It was the European side of the Urals mountain range which seems to have progressed in more detail, during the Hamburg, Ahrensburg, and Swiderian cultures.

While East Asia was already experiencing its own Mesolithic and Neolithic in the form of China's Peiligang culture and Korea's Jeulmun pottery period, the next prominent archaeological culture to be noted in South-East Asia was the Toalean. This emerged at the same time as the Central Asian Kel'teminar culture, and directly following the end of the Vietnamese Quynh Van culture to which it was generally unrelated.

The hunter-gatherers of the regionally-unique Toalean culture (or Toalien in initial reports) inhabited southern areas of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The duration of this cultural period was incredibly long for such recent dates, covering more than six thousand years during the middle and late Holocene.

It could be stretched even farther in time, as knowledge of the culture is still somewhat patchy. No preceding cultures are known other than the initial South-East Asian Palaeolithic habitation - the island's archaeological record requires a great deal of detailing.

The culture is characterised by backed blades, geometric microliths, and 'Maros points', small pressure-flaked projectiles with hollow bases and serrated margins. Its people preyed heavily on wild endemic warty pigs and harvested edible shellfish from creeks and estuaries. Unusually for the dating, it is indeed Mesolithic rather than Neolithic - it precedes the first, rather late appearance of Neolithic farmers on the island.

Bessé is the only-known skeleton from the Toalean (the name is pronounced bur-sek, with 'bur' as in 'bursary' while the 'k' is a strangulated stop in the throat, akin to the 't' in the Cockney 'bottle' which, in essence, is missing). DNA results revealed an ancient link to East Asia, which challenged previous knowledge about migration to the islands of the Wallacea group of which Sulawesi is a part (the greater number of islands belong to the Asian two-thirds of this group, with the rest in Oceania).

FeatureAsian ancestry in the region had previously been thought to date to about 1000 BC or later, but this find pushed that back by four millennia. The rest of Bessé's DNA is shared with today's indigenous Australians and the people of New Guinea and the Western Pacific, while a Denisovan presence is also noted (likely introduced via her East Asian ancestors - see feature link).

The Toalean people were related to the very earliest modern human populations in the Wallacea region from around 63,000 BC or earlier. These were the ancestors of Australians and Papuans. At some point they were joined by an East Asian influx.

This seems to have taken place after the Australian/Papuan outwards migration and the initial peopling of the Pleistocene supercontinent of Sahul, but before general Austronesian expansion. The Toalean was eventually edged out a thousand years or so after the start of the spread of Austronesian Neolithic farmers from mainland Asia.

Mesolithic stone tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from External Links: Ancient woman's DNA (Big Think), and Culture History of the Toalean of South Sulawesi, David Bulbeck, Monique Pasqua, & Adrian di Lello (Asian Perspectives Vol 39, No 1/2, University of Hawai'i Press, Spring-Autumn 2000, available as a PDF from JSTOR).)

c.5200 BC

Dated to this approximate date within the Toalean culture, Bessé is about seventeen or eighteen years of age when she is laid to rest in a limestone cave known as Leang Panninge ('Bat Cave') on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

While she is a genuine descendant of the earliest human inhabitants in the region, her DNA also reveals a link to East Asia, challenging previous ideas about East Asian migration into the region.

A migration of some extent must take place before this date. Today's Burgis people of Sulawesi use the name Bessé as a nickname for a new-born princess.

Altai Mountains
The skull of Bessé was able to yield DNA from the inner ear, the best place for its survival, which revealed a surprising East Asian addition to her Sahul-region ancestry, and a less surprising inclusion of Denisovan ancestry

c.AD 500

After roughly a millennium of intrusion onto Sulawesi by Austronesian Neolithic farmers who have been migrating outwards from mainland Asia, the Toalean culture finally fades out and its people are submerged by the culturally-dominant later arrivals in Indonesia.

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