Indonesia belongs to the area where humans have lived for over a milion years. In fact, this is assumed on the 500.000 year old remains of the Jawaman, discovered by the Dutch Eugène Dubois in 1893. It was assumed for a while that this should be the location where the first humans lived. But the finding of an even older skeletton in Ethiopia ('Lucy') put Dubois Homo erectus in the direct shadow. On Borneo, there were no findings from the far past.
Much later the Homo sapiens walked around. Australois people settled in nowadays mainland Southeastern Asia, the Philipines and Australia. They were the far ancestors of the Papua of New Guinee and the Aboriginals of Australia and the Philipines.
The discovery of an more than 35.000 year old Australoid skull in the caves of Niah in Sarawak (Norhwestern Borneo), gave some view over the way of living of the oldest human live in the Indonesian archipelago. The discoverer of the oldest human skull ever found, ethnograph and adventurour Tom Harrison, told by seeing the skull that the people from Borneo were paleolithical caveman, which lived of hunting, fishing and collecting of ediple plants. Between 40.000 and 20.000 yea ago their 'treasury' were pigs, monkeys, deer, orang-hutans, beard, rhinocerosses, squirrels, weasels and more. They aldo catched animals which are now extinct, like the wild oxes, giant-pangolins and white-tooth toepaja's (a kind of mice).
About 20.000 years ago, a strong improvement in stone tools took place. Maybe the inhabitants of the island learned to harvest the core of the sago-palm in a good way. Sago formed the main food among local people, and for some people - for example the Punan - that's still the case.
The Austronesian expansion
It is accepted that the earliest inhabitants, because of their technological knowledge, were forces out about 5000 years ago by migrants from mainland Asia. They spoke Austronesian languages (where most Indonesian languages belong). Probably these Austronesians crossed the sea from Southern China to Taiwan about 7000 year ago. About 500 years later, an important discovery was done, which can be compared with the wheel: the wingboat.
In the cource of several thousands of years the Austronesians would have spread slowly in two directions: via the Pacific to Hawaii and Easter Island, on the other side to the Philipines, where they split: some went to the northern Maluku, others towards Borneo.
The languages that were spoken by these Indonesian migrants, developped indepentently from eachother and about 5000 years ago, there were two main groups: the western Malay-Polynesian in Western Indonesian and the central Malay-Polynesian in Eastern Indonesia. Some Dayak languages, among them the Kenyah and Kayan, can be related to the western Malay-Polynesian origin.
The Austronesians spread towards the south. It is assumed that about 3000 years ago Southeast Kalimantan knew several languages: Jawanese and Barito (the name of a river in Southern Borneo). About 1000 years later the Austronesians crossed the route from Southern Kalimantan to Sumatera, peninsular Malaysia and mainland Asia. The last big migration took place about 1600 years ago, after the fall of the Roman empire. Because of several exact cultural and lingual matched between the population of Madagascar - which speak Barito - and the Dayak, it's assumed that several of them crossed the Indian Ocean and settled themselves on the remote African island.
The older Australoid culture of Borneo was forces out by the culture of the Austronesian migrants or they blended. The new people brought in their neolithycal culture. They introduced very good tools and weapons of polished stone. They knew specific forms of ceramics, kept dogs, chickens and pigs, and had a field-change culture. Maybe they introduced the production of wheat and rice. The communities settled in steady settlements. Whether they already knew labour specialisation is doubtfull.
Bronze age and Iron age
About 2400 years ago, the influence of the high-developed Dongson culture, touched Borneo. This probably originated from China again; the name comes from the location where objects were found, somewhere in Vietnam. metal tools radically changed life. Chopping of the fields and construction of houses was a lot easier. Cattle was held and the wet rice culture was introduced. The Dongson culture spread all over Southeastern Asia. metal and rice culture spread over Borneo slowly; in 1950 some were still using stone tools. Because Borneo didn't have copper and zinc deposits, these metals had to be imported.
Iron ore was eventually found on the island. Working with this metal started around the 6th century. Ironsmiths created weapons and agricultural tools of high quality.
The arrival of iron tools made it possible for the Dayak to change from sago harvest to agriculture. Rice and taro, a plant of which you can eat the leaves as well as the tuber, had a much higher nutritional value. The climax of the ironsmith art on Borneo is called the mandau, a short fighting blade. The blades even overshadow the Jawanese ones for what quality is concerned.