The Southern Dispersal Route refers to a theory concerning an early migration of modern human beings from southern Africa to the east along the coastlines of Africa, Arabia and India to Australia and Melanesia between about 70,000 and 45,000 years ago. The original Out-of-Africa theory said modern Homo sapiens came northward out from Africa about 45,000 years ago, and then diverged along different routes to Europe and Siberia and South Asia. Archaeologists still believe a wave occurred to the north, but growing evidence supports this earlier southern route into South Asia.
The theory goes that modern H. sapiens with a generalized subsistence strategy based on hunting and gathering coastal resources (shellfish, fish, sea lions and rodents, as well as bovids and antelope), traveled along the coasts eastward. On the way, they undoubtedly met other hominins (such as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo erectus and/or Neanderthals), probably replacing them, and colonizing the subcontinent of India, reaching Australia by 40,000 years ago.
Southern Dispersal Route: Evidence
The evidence supporting the Southern Dispersal Route includes similarities in stone tools and symbolic behaviors at Middle Paleolithic South African Howiesons Poort/Stillbay sites such as Blombos Cave and Klasies River Caves and sites such as Mumba Rockshelter (Tanzania), Enkapune Ya Muto (Kenya), Jwalapuram and Patne (India) and Batadomba-lena (Sri Lanka).
The appearance in Australia of 40,000-year-old sites occupied by modern humans such as Lake Mungo and Devil's Lair, and of Niah Cave on the island of Borneo, and genetic studies which support the colonization of South Asia by Africans are contributory evidence to the Southern Dispersal Route.
Leaving Africa: Three Theories
Field, Julie S., Michael D. Petraglia, and Marta M. Lahr 2007 The southern dispersal hypothesis and the South Asian archaeological record: Examination of dispersal routes through GIS analysis. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 26:88-108.
Field, Julie S. and Marta M. Lahr 2006 Assessment of the Southern Dispersal: GIS-Based Analyses of Potential Routes at Oxygen Isotopic Stage 4. Journal of World Prehistory 19(1):1-45.
Oppenheimer, Stephen 2009 The great arc of dispersal of modern humans: Africa to Australia. Quaternary International 202(1-2):2-13.
This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.