Hominins on Flores by one million years ago

A paper by Brumm et al released online in Nature earlier this month reports the finds of stone tools in Wolo Sege, Flores dating to about a million years old. Some of the news media (see links below) are linking the find to the ‘hobbit’ found in the same island although there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection. The finds don’t seem all that surprising to me, since we already know that some hominins (Homo erectus) reached Java a million and a half years ago and another earlier find of stone tools dated 880,000 years was found just half a kilometre away, but it’ll be interesting to see if a link between these million-year-old hominins and the hobbit can be established.

Hominins on Flores, Indonesia, by one million years ago
Nature, 17 March 2010
doi:10.1038/nature08844

“Hobbits” Had Million-Year History on Island?
National Geographic, 17 March 2010

Tools found on ‘hobbit’ island
The Irish Times, 18 March 2010

‘Hobbits’ May Have Arrived in Flores Much Earlier Than Thought: Scientists
Jakarta Globe, 18 March 2010

‘Hobbit’ island’s deeper history

BBC News, 18 March 2010

Early humans colonized Indonesian island
ABC, via CBC News, 18 March 2010

Previous excavations at Mata Menge and Boa Lesa in the Soa Basin of Flores, Indonesia, recovered stone artefacts in association with fossilized remains of the large-bodied Stegodon florensis florensis. Zircon fission-track ages from these sites indicated that hominins had colonized the island by 0.88 ± 0.07 million years (Myr) ago6. Here we describe the contents, context and age of Wolo Sege, a recently discovered archaeological site in the Soa Basin that has in situ stone artefacts and that lies stratigraphically below Mata Menge and immediately above the basement breccias of the basin. We show using 40Ar/39Ar dating that an ignimbrite overlying the artefact layers at Wolo Sege was erupted 1.02 ± 0.02 Myr ago, providing a new minimum age for hominins on Flores. This predates the disappearance from the Soa Basin of ‘pygmy’ Stegodon sondaari and Geochelone spp. (giant tortoise), as evident at the nearby site of Tangi Talo, which has been dated to 0.90 ± 0.07 Myr ago10. It now seems that this extirpation or possible extinction event and the associated faunal turnover were the result of natural processes rather than the arrival of hominins9. It also appears that the volcanic and fluvio-lacustrine deposits infilling the Soa Basin may not be old enough to register the initial arrival of hominins on the island.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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