Have humans been sailors for a million years? | Tech News

A growing collection of bones and tools suggest early humans built boats too, which would transform our view on how smart they were

IT WASN’T supposed to end this way. The 23-metre-long Nale Tasih 1, made with Stone Age tools and materials, was meant to recreate one of the truly epic prehistoric journeys: the first human crossing from Indonesia to Australia some 65,000 years ago. The voyage, in 1998, should have taken more than a week, but water sloshing around the crew’s feet on the first day was a clear sign. The team had to tow the doomed raft back to shore.

The very first humans to travel the oceans would have faced a daunting task, both physical and mental. By attempting to recreate their voyages, experimental archaeologists are helping to define the scale of that challenge. The Nale Tasih 1 expedition, however, was meant to help prove a grander theory. Its leaders say humans have been building and using watercraft to reach new lands for the best part of a million years. In other words, early humans – potentially including Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo erectus – weren’t diehard landlubbers. They were mariners.

It is still a minority view, but one with profound implications. The ancient mariners theory could completely change our perspective on how early humans behaved and communicated with each other.

The broad consensus is that our species, Homo sapiens, largely took over the world on foot. Our ancestors walked out of Africa, through or around Arabia to South Asia, over to East Asia, and via various routes to Europe. They even walked to the Americas over a land bridge that once stretched from present-day Siberia to Alaska. The only major land mass that had to …

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