Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 171–224 | Cite as

The prehistory of Island Southeast Asia: A multidisciplinary review of recent research

  • Peter Bellwood


Island Southeast Asia extends across both the equatorial and the intermediate tropical zones of world climate, and it also spans a region of complex and geologically unstable land and sea relationships. The Sundaland region in the west and the isolated islands of Wallacea in the east both witnessed complex trajectories of human movement and evolution during the Pleistocene. The record of human evolution in Sundaland is still affected by uncertainties over phylogeny, dates, and archaeological correlations. Initial human settlement across Huxley's Line into Wallacea cannot at present be proven to be older than the Late Pleistocene. Stone tool industries dating to within the past 40,000 years are described, including new discoveries which indicate a surprising level of technological virtuosity. Human populations of the Late Pleistocene and Holocene are also considered in terms of skeletal and genetic data, particularly with respect to the rather controversial antecedents of the present, mainly Mongoloid, population. The article terminates its coverage at about 2000 B.C., within the period characterized by the expansion of speakers of Austronesian languages and by the expansion of agriculture into a porous and often-resistant network of hunter-gatherer societies. The archaeological and ethnographic records of the region bear witness to a continuous but dwindling existence of hunting and gathering right through to the present day. While the results of archaeology occupy a central position in the reconstruction of Southeast Asian prehistory, a proper understanding can be achieved only if a multidisciplinary standpoint is adopted.

Key words

Indonesia Malaysia hominids Pleistocene environments early agriculture Austronesian languages 


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© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Bellwood
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Prehistory and AnthropologyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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