Possible Hobbit ancestors found in Flores, dating 700,000 years

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Mata Menge site. Source: Nature via ABC News 20160609

A new paper out in Nature last month detail the find of tiny hominid bones in Flores, home of H. floresiensis. The fossils from Mata Menge date to 700,000 years old, and suggest that the hobbit had been older and had a longer history on the island than previously thought.

Mata Menge site. Source: Nature via ABC News 20160609

Mata Menge site. Source: Nature via ABC News 20160609

Homo floresiensis-like fossils from the early Middle Pleistocene of Flores
Nature, 09 June 2006
doi:10.1038/nature17999

‘Hobbit’ relatives found after ten-year hunt
Nature, 08 June 2016

Homo floresiensis has been uncovered at the 700,000 year old site of Mata Menge, Flores, Indonesia
Human Evolution @ UCK, 08 June 2016

Flores fossil discovery provides clues to ‘hobbit’ ancestors
The Guardian, 08 June 2016

Flores fossil discovery gives new clue to ‘hobbit’ relatives
AFP, via Economic Times, 09 June 2016

Hobbit discovery: Hopes 700,000-year-old find could shed new light on evolution
ABC News, 09 June 2016

New fossils shed light on the origin of ‘hobbits’
Griffith University, via Popular Archaeology, 09 June 2016

Australian-led team unlocked new questions about human evolution and the history of the`Hobbit’
News.com.au, 10 June 2016

The evolutionary origin of Homo floresiensis, a diminutive hominin species previously known only by skeletal remains from Liang Bua in western Flores, Indonesia, has been intensively debated. It is a matter of controversy whether this primitive form, dated to the Late Pleistocene, evolved from early Asian Homo erectus and represents a unique and striking case of evolutionary reversal in hominin body and brain size within an insular environment1–4. The alternative hypothesis is that H. floresiensis derived from an older, smaller-brained member of our genus, such as Homo habilis, or perhaps even late Australopithecus, signalling a hitherto undocumented dispersal of hominins from Africa into eastern Asia by two million years ago (2 Ma)5,6. Here we describe hominin fossils excavated in 2014 from an early Middle Pleistocene site (Mata Menge) in the So’a Basin of central Flores. These specimens comprise a mandible fragment and six isolated teeth belonging to at least three small-jawed and small-toothed individuals. Dating to ~0.7 Ma, these fossils now constitute the oldest hominin remains from Flores7. The Mata Menge mandible and teeth are similar in dimensions and morphological characteristics to those of H. floresiensis from Liang Bua. The exception is the mandibular first molar, which retains a more primitive condition. Notably, the Mata Menge mandible and molar are even smaller in size than those of the two existing H. floresiensis individuals from Liang Bua. The Mata Menge fossils are derived compared with Australopithecus and H. habilis, and so tend to support the view that H. floresiensis is a dwarfed descendent of early Asian H. erectus. Our findings suggest that hominins on Flores had acquired extremely small body size and other morphological traits specific to H. floresiensis at an unexpectedly early time.

Article link here.

Public Lecture: The Tombstones of Lamreh (Ancient Lamri)

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Readers in Singapore may be interested in this talk by Dr. E. Edwards McKinnon at ISEAS.

The Tombstones of Lamreh (Ancient Lamri): Their relevance to the arrival of Islam according to the Sejarah Melayu
Venue: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Singapore
Date: 4 March 2015

The Lamreh headland adjacent to the Krueng Raya bay in Aceh Besar regency, Aceh province of Indonesia, known locally as Ujong Batee Kapai or the Ship-rock headland is one of the most important early Islamic settlement sites in northern Sumatra. The headland, some 300 ha in extent and the site of an ancient harbour has recently proved to have been devastated by one, if not two, pre-modern tsunamis and is a mediaeval settlement marked by numerous Islamic grave markers. The Lamreh site may be related to the Lan-li or Lan-wu-li of mediaeval Chinese texts, and in all probability the Chola ‘Ilamuridesam’ of the 11th century Tanjore inscription.

Attention to a sadly neglected burial ground at Lubhok was initiated by an Indonesian archaeological research team in 1996. The author was fortunate in being able to visit the headland site shortly after the Indonesian visit and discover an extensive cultural landscape which at that time was still largely intact. Two distinct types of grave marker, a small, plain proto-batu Aceh and a distinct so-called plang pleng tradition are to be found there. These grave markers and similar stones at three other contemporary coastal sites, Aru, Perlak and Samudera Pase, are seemingly of some importance in considering the legend of the arrival of Islam in the Sejarah Melayu and may help in understanding the arrival of Islam in the Aceh region.

The occurrence of the plang pleng tombstones that are found only in a very limited geographical area, may reflect the presence of a South Asian trading organization that had links to Sri Lanka, to Ayudhaya and to Quanzhou in south China in the 14th and 15th centuries. The plang pleng burial tradition seemingly disappears with the rise of the new sultanate in the late 15th or early 16th centuries.

More details and registration here.

Global implications of Southeast Asian rock art

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Source: Antiquity 88(342)

Earlier this week, the journal Antiquity published a paper entitled ‘The global implications of the early surviving rock art of greater Southeast Asia’, which I was a co-author of. The paper touches on a number of rock art projects that have happened in the recent years: my contribution was on the rock art of Gua Tambun in Malaysia, which I investigated as part of my MA, and the paper also touches on the rock art of Cambodia that later became part of my PhD thesis. Other regions included Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia – the last of which is fresh in our minds because of recent research that shows it was as old, if not older than the painted caves in Europe.

Source: Antiquity 88(342)

Source: Antiquity 88(342)

Since the discovery of the painted caves of France, rock art studies has tended to be dominated by Eurocentrism as the ‘origin’ of art. Far from arguing that Southeast Asia is the origin of art, we are beginning to see with Southeast Asia, and I expect in other parts of the world that the tradition of painting in rock surfaces was widespread, even in prehistoric times, and may have begun even before humankind started moving out of Africa into other parts of the world. This paper is a snapshot of rock art research in Southeast Asia, and I am glad to be part of it.

Links to the paper in article in Antiquity and some of the associated news stories:

The global implications of the early surviving rock art of greater Southeast Asia
Antiquity, 88(342): 1050-1064

New evidence of ancient rock art across Southeast Asia
Eureka Alerts, 25 November 2014

Ancient Rock Art Discovered Across Asia was Created by Prehistoric Humans
Science World Report, 26 November 2014

Ancient Rock Art Splattered Across Southeast Asia
Nature World News, 26 November 2014

Rock art origins reappraised
Phnom Penh Post, 28 November 2014
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Contact between the Malay World and Australia: The Rock Art of Djulirri

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If you pick up the latest issue of Archaeology Magazine (Jan/Feb 2011), you’ll find their headlining feature on the rock art of Australia, and in particular the rock art at Djulirri in Arnehm Land of northern Australia has a massive complex of rock art depicting thousands of years of history, including the arrival of Macassan ships or praus in the 16th-17th centuries. The full online article is available by subscription, but the website has a nice photo gallery and videos of Dr. Paul Tacon explaining the site.

Reading the Rocks
Archaeology Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011

The Rock Art of Malarrak
Archaeology Magazine, 14 December 2010

The Rock Art of Djulirri (video series)
Archaeology Magazine, 14 December 2010
(In five parts. Part IV contains the video about Southeast Asian Praus in contact with Arnhem Land)
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Indonesian museums don't have enough money

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While it’s probably true that all museums could use a little extra money to run, it’s probably not as dire as the museum scene in Indonesia, where the museums in Jakarta are facing serious problems in their administration, from poor displays to the inability to hold public programmes and even basic security.

Museum Fatahilah, Front Facade
photo credit: DMahendra

Funding problems harm museums
Jakarta Post, 18 May 2009
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Wednesday Rojak #5

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Hobbits! Hobbits! and more Hobbits! is the theme for this week’s Wednesday Rojak, which is not surprising since last week saw the release of a paper supporting the hobbit-is-not-human camp by describing the wrist bones of homo floresiensis as primitive, descending from an earlier hominin offshoot. Read about:

  • Kambiz Kamrani takes a closer look at the bone analyses outlined in the study.
  • The Cabinet of Wonders takes a step back to comment on the dynamics of opinion about the hobbit in Hobbits? It’s all in the wrist.
  • While Kris points out that between a new species of human or deformed, the hobbit might not even be human.
  • And for an overview of early human migrations through the world, TuLu Research posts a small map and timeline for your reference.
  • On an afterthought, 900 ft Jesus thinks that the whole Hobbit affair should really mess with creationists’ heads.

Of course, there’s some other stuff in Southeast Asia too, like:

In this series of weekly rojaks (published on Wednesdays) I’ll feature other sites in the blogosphere that are of related to archaeology in Southeast Asia. Got a recommendation for the next Wednesday rojak? Email me