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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Early Oceania

Considered in some quarters to be a continent in its own right, one which is largely composed of water rather than land, Oceania starts where South-East Asia ends. The territory which forms Oceania is somewhat debatable, as is that potential status as a continent.

Broadly it encompasses Australasia (Australia, New Zealand, and some minor islands), Melanesia (neighbouring Australasia to the north and east, and incorporating islands between New Guinea and Tonga), Micronesia (on the northern flank of Melanesia and east of the Philippines, and incorporating thousands of islands which stretch up to Japan's Bonin Islands), and Polynesia (on the eastern flank of all three of the others, and stretching north to include Hawaii, east to Easter Island, and south-west towards New Zealand).

Some authorities include New Zealand in Polynesia while the United Nations excludes any islands which are part of other political formations, such as Hawaii for its strong connections to the United States of America.

South Asia had a presence of anatomically modern humans in the form of Homo sapiens from about 70,000-60,000 BC - with small groups either remaining in what is now India from their earliest point of arrival after leaving the Near East, or migrating along the coastline to reach South-East Asia, Palaeolithic Oceania, and East Asia by about 60,000 BC.

FeatureThe first humans reached Australia at some point around 50,000 BC (see feature link). That early Australian population, if it left any related communities in South-East Asia, quickly lost connection with them and they were replaced outside of Australia by populations of later South Asians and East Asians.

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right).

Considering the fact that the bulk of Oceania is composed of water, its overall population is higher only than than of Antarctica. It is also the only region (or continent) to cross the international date line down the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so that its easternmost territories are also technically its westernmost territories, and they exist a day behind the rest of Oceania.

Bradshaw rock art, Australia

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds), from The Lapita Peoples, P V Kirch (Blackwell, 1997), and from External Links: Foreign Bodies: Oceania and the Science of Race 1750-1940, Bronwen Douglas & Chris Ballard (ANU Press, 2008, and available via JSTOR), and Standard country or area codes for statistical use (United Nations), and Sequencing Uncovers a 9,000 Mile Walkabout, Dr Morten Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen, 2012, available to download as a PDF via Illimina), and New Guinea People (World Wildlife Fund archived feature).)

c.300,000 BC

Homo denisovan populations exist by this time in the Altai Mountains of Siberia (pinpointed to Baishiya Karst Cave) and in Tibet. They probably exist alongside East Asian populations of Homo erectus.

Although remains have not been found, they are theorised either to enter South-East Asia and also Oceania, or interbreed with East Asian Homo sapiens prior to a migration into Melanesia. Later genetic analysis reveals that modern humans in that region especially have a small amount of Denisovan DNA.

Tibet's Jiangla river valley
This autumn view of Jiangla river valley shows the general location in which Baishiya Karst Cave is located, home to a population of Homo Denisovans which also populated the Altai Mountains in Siberia


King list Palaeolithic Oceania
(c.60,000 - 9650 BC)

The Palaeolithic period in Oceania marks the arrival of modern humans in the region, although it can also be extended to cover the existence of older human types.

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