by Nuno Vasco Oliveira, PhD Student at the Australia National University

 Rock painting in Ile Kére Kére, Tutuala. Photo: Dan Groshong.
Timor-Leste is a sedimentary island located in the bio geographic area of Wallacea, between Australia and mainland Southeast Asia. This area has never worked as a land bridge between the two countries and any ancient human migration beyond the Asian continent has thus involved sea crossing.
The history of human occupation in Timor-Leste goes as far back as 35.000 years before the present time. The dates were obtained after the most recent archaeological excavations in the Lene Hara cave, in Tutuala (O’CONNOR; SPRIGGS; VETH: 2002). Back in the 60s and within the work carried out by Ian Glover (GLOVER: 1986) the first radiocarbon dates confirmed that human populations during prehistoric times, who altered the landscape and induced major geomorphologic impacts due to systematic fires for the introduction of agriculture and domesticates, had settled the island. These communities spoke Austronesian languages and arrived in Timor-Leste between 4.000 and 3.500 years before present time.
Besides Glover’s work the Timor Anthropological Mission, lead by António de Almeida, had already carried out field surveys in Timor-Leste identifying and excavating a number of sites. Among them is Ile Kére Kére with its important and well know rock paintings, initially published by Ruy Cinatti.
Between those works from the 50s and the 60s e the new research initiated in 2000 more then 30 years have passed. The East Timor Archaeological Project has already identified a great number of new archaeological sites and relocated old ones. Besides Lene Hara, other sites have been test pitted or excavated along the North coast and several new radiocarbon dates are available.
The systematic surveying of caves and rock shelters with paintings, especially in Lospalos, has allowed identifying a great number of sites to those previously known (O’CONNOR: 2003), attesting the presence of a rich cultural expression dated in Southeast Asia and the Pacific from at least 2.000 years.
Archaeological research in Timor-Leste is in progress and new fieldwork is being carried out in Lospalos, Baucau and Baguia. After more then 30 years where almost no scientific research was made possible, the recently created country opens its doors to new research projects, taking its well-deserved place in the history of human occupation in Southeast Asia.
Short Bibliography
BELLWOOD, P. (1997) – Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago (Revised Edition), Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press.
GLOVER, I. (1986) – Archaeology in Eastern Timor, 1966-67. Terra Australis II, Canberra, ANU
O’CONNOR, S. (2003) – Nine New Painted Rock Art Sites from East Timor in the context of the Western Pacific Region”. Asian Perspectives, Vol. 42, No. 1, Hawai’i, pp. 96-128.
O’CONNOR, S.; SPRIGGS, M.; VETH, P. (2002) – Excavation at Lene Hara Cave establishes occupation in East Timor at least 30,000-35,000 years ago. Antiquity, vol. 76, No. 291, Oxford, pp. 45-50.
PADDAYYA, K., BELLWOOD, P. (2002) – South and Southeast Asia. Archaeology. The Widening Debate (Ed. B. Cunliffe, W. Davies, C. Renfrew), British Academy Centenary, Oxford, , OUP, pp. 295-334.
SPRIGGS, M.; O’CONNOR, S.; VETH, P. (no prelo) – Vestiges of Early Pre-agricultural Economy in the Landscape of East Timor: Recent Research.