Dating the events that define our humanity

Dating the events that define our humanity

Liang Bua

Impact Summary

Understanding who we are and where we have come from is at the heart of the human consciousness and has a bearing on how we perceive ourselves. This research uses advanced dating techniques such as luminescence, uranium series and electron spin resonance dating to establish a precise timeline for human dispersal, occupation and evolution in Asia – the source area for our ancestors and a critical region for understanding the migrations of the first Australians. The application of these techniques has been a game changer in the field of Asian human evolution and has contributed to our present understanding of human dispersals enroute to Australia.

Kira Westaway in lab

Dating Events Impact

Impact Leaders

Kira Westaway Kira Westaway
Assoc Professor
Macquarie University
Renaud Joannes Boyau Renaud Joannes Boyau
Southern Cross University
Thomas Sutikna  Thomas Sutikna
Research Fellow
University of Wollongong
Jian-xin Zhao  Jian-xin Zhao
University of Queensland
Julien Louys  Julien Louys
Griffith University
Gilbert Price  Gilbert Price
University of Queensland


  • Australian Museum
  • Powerhouse Museum
  • Media Outlets – ABC, BBC news, National Geographic, Scientific American, Cosmos, Catalyst, 60 minutes, BBC horizon, Fox news, Chanel news Asia, French Tribune, Daily Telegraph and Times UK
  • Community groups – Old age pensioners club, Skeptics society,
  • Academic community - ‘Science breakthrough of the Year’ in 2004, the most amazing science discovery in the last 10 years” by Jared Diamond and “one of the most astonishing discoveries I’ve seen in my lifetime” by Tim Flannery.
  • General public – National science week, public talks schools, kids workshops, popular blogs The conversation and The Science breaker
  • Practitioners (doctors and other health care professional

Countries where impact occurred

Dating Events Impact World Map

Research associated with impact

This research has greatly influenced our understanding of human evolution and what constitutes ‘being human’ and has challenged many of our established ideas about human dispersal across the globe. The dating of these important events have constrained; the occupation and extinction of a new species of human Homo floresiesis in Indonesia, the timing of the oldest evidence of modern humans in Southeast Asia, the timing of the earliest evidence of humans-use rainforest environments and the oldest in-situ, fully recognisable rock art motif in Australia. The age of the controversial hominid, Homo floresiensis caused a paradigm shift in palaeoanthropology and generated claims for Asia, rather than Africa as the new centre of human evolution. As a results there has been a renewed interest in excavations and discovery in Asia and huge surge in public interest in science. The new chronologies for Tam Pa Ling (70-48 ka) and Lida Ajer (73-63 ka) have pushed back the arrival time of AMH into Southeast Asia by ~20 kyr. Now both of these sites are included in models of human dispersal through the region.

References and further reading

Westaway, K.E., Louys, J., Due Awe, R., Morwood, M.J., Price, G.J. Zhao, J.-x., Aubert, M., Joannes-Boyau, R., Smith, T.M., Skinner, M.M., Compton, T., Bailey, R.M. , van den Bergh, G.D., de Vos, J., Pike, A.W.G, Stringer, C., Saptomo, E.W., Rizal,Y., Zaim, J., Santoso, W.D., Trihascaryo, A., Kinsley, L., Sulistyanto, B., 2017. An early modern human presence in Sumatra at 73-63 kyr. Nature 548, 322-325.

Sutikna, T., Tocheri, M.W., Morwood, M.J., Saptomo, E.W., Jatmiko, Awe, R.D., Wasisto, S., Westaway, K.E., Aubert, M., Li, B., Zhao, J.-x, Storey, M., Alloway, B.V., Morley, M.W., Meijer, H.J.M., van den Bergh, G.D., GrĂ¼n, R.D., Dosseto, A., Brumm, A., Jungers, W.L., Roberts, R.G., 2016. Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua, eastern Indonesia. Nature 532, 366–369

Morwood, M.J., Soejono, R.P., Roberts, R.G., Sutikna, T., Turney, C.S.M., Westaway, K.E., Rink, W.J., Zhao, J.-x., van den Bergh, G.D., Awe Due, R., Hobbs, D.R., Moore, M.W., Bird, M.I. and Fifield, L.K., 2004. Archaeology and age of a new hominin from Flores in eastern Indonesia. Nature 431, 1087–1091

Morwood, M.J., Brown, P., Jatmiko, Sutikna, T., Saptomo, E.W., Westaway, K.E., Awe Due, R., Roberts, R.G., Maeda, T., Wasisto, S. and Djubiantono, T., 2005. Further evidence for small-bodied hominins from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia. Nature 437, 1012–1017.

Demeter, F., Shackelford, L., Bacon, A.M, Duringer, P., Westaway, K.E., Sayavongkhamdy, T., Braga, J., Sichanthongtip, P., Khamdalavong, P., Ponche, J-L, Wang, H., Lundstrom, C, Patole-Edoumba, E, Karpoff, A-M, 2012. Anatomically modern human in Southeast Asia (Laos) by 46 ka. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 109, 14375-14380.

Ross, JR., Westaway, KE, Travers, M., Aubert, M., Morwood, M.J., Hayward, J., 2016. Into the past: A step towards a robust Kimberley rock art chronology PLoS ONE 11, e0161726. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161726.  JIF; 3.702, Q1, C; 6New South Wales, Australia. Applied Geography, 21, 91-122.

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