Evidence of fire-making in Liang Bua

A microstratigraphic study of the Hobbit cave, Liang Bua, reveals the use of fire between 41,000 and 24,000 years ago. The dates suggest that Homo sapiens used the cave after Homo floresiensis and fueling speculation that modern humans were responsible for the extinction of the hobbits.

Liang Bua. Source: Cosmo Magazine 20160630
Liang Bua. Source: Cosmo Magazine 20160630

Initial micromorphological results from Liang Bua, Flores (Indonesia): Site formation processes and hominin activities at the type locality of Homo floresiensis
Journal of Archaeological Science, 2016 DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2016.06.004

Fire discovery sheds new light on ‘hobbit’ demise
Science Daily, 29 June 2016

Modern humans may have smoked ‘hobbits’ out of their caves and into extinction
Mother Nature Network, 29 June 2016

Gap Between “Hobbits” and Modern Humans Narrows
The Scientist, 29 June 2016

Fireplace discovery sheds light on hobbits’ demise
Cosmos, 30 June 2016

Humans did wipe out real-life ‘hobbits’, say scientists
The Independent, 1 July 2016

Liang Bua, a karstic cave located on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia, is best known for yielding the holotype of the diminutive hominin Homo floresiensis from Late Pleistocene sediments. Modern human remains have also been recovered from the Holocene deposits, and abundant archaeological and faunal remains occur throughout the sequence. The cave, the catchment in which it is located and the gross aggradational phases of the sediment sequence have all been subject to a great deal of scientific scrutiny since the discovery of the holotype of H. floresiensis in 2003. A recent program of geoarchaeological research has extended analyses of the site’s deposits to the microstratigraphic (micromorphological) level. The stratigraphic sequence in the cave is well defined but complex, comprising interstratified sediments of diverse lithologies and polygenetic origins, including volcanic tephras, fine-grained colluvium, coarse autogenic limestone gravels, speleothems and anthropogenic sediments, such as combustion features. The sedimentological and chemical heterogeneity suggest that processes of site formation and diagenesis varied markedly through time, both laterally and vertically. We present initial results from samples collected in 2014 from an excavation area near the rear of the cave, which yielded radiocarbon ages from charcoal that fill an important temporal gap in the chrono-stratigraphic sequence of previously excavated areas of the site. The results indicate marked changes in site environment and hominin activity during the Late Pleistocene, relating primarily to the degree to which the cave was connected to the hydrogeological system and to the varying intensities of use of the cave by hominins. Importantly, we identify anthropogenic signs of fire-use at the site between 41 and 24 thousand years ago, most likely related to the presence of modern humans.

Article link here.

Another Hobbit paper argues against Down Syndrome theory

While the excitement was brewing over the discovery of 700,000-year-old hobbit bones in Flores, another paper published at the same time evaluates the theory that H. floresiensis presented with signs of Down Syndrome. The paper noted significant differences between the hominid bones and those with Down Sydrome and concluded that the bones were unique.

A Critical Evaluation of the Down Syndrome Diagnosis for LB1, Type Specimen of Homo floresiensis
PLoS One, 08 June 2016, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155731

Homo floresiensis Remains Unique, Valid Species
Sci-News, 13 June 2016

The Liang Bua hominins from Flores, Indonesia, have been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate since their initial description and classification in 2004. These remains have been assigned to a new species, Homo floresiensis, with the partial skeleton LB1 as the type specimen. The Liang Bua hominins are notable for their short stature, small endocranial volume, and many features that appear phylogenetically primitive relative to modern humans, despite their late Pleistocene age. Recently, some workers suggested that the remains represent members of a small-bodied island population of modern Austro-Melanesian humans, with LB1 exhibiting clinical signs of Down syndrome. Many classic Down syndrome signs are soft tissue features that could not be assessed in skeletal remains. Moreover, a definitive diagnosis of Down syndrome can only be made by genetic analysis as the phenotypes associated with Down syndrome are variable. Most features that contribute to the Down syndrome phenotype are not restricted to Down syndrome but are seen in other chromosomal disorders and in the general population. Nevertheless, we re-evaluated the presence of those phenotypic features used to support this classification by comparing LB1 to samples of modern humans diagnosed with Down syndrome and euploid modern humans using comparative morphometric analyses. We present new data regarding neurocranial, brain, and symphyseal shape in Down syndrome, additional estimates of stature for LB1, and analyses of inter- and intralimb proportions. The presence of cranial sinuses is addressed using CT images of LB1. We found minimal congruence between the LB1 phenotype and clinical descriptions of Down syndrome. We present important differences between the phenotypes of LB1 and individuals with Down syndrome, and quantitative data that characterize LB1 as an outlier compared with Down syndrome and non-Down syndrome groups. Homo floresiensis remains a phenotypically unique, valid species with its roots in Plio-Pleistocene Homo taxa.

Full story here.

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

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

‘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.

Hobbits older than expected

A new paper in Nature has revised the dates of the Hobbit, once thought to be 12,000 years old, to be an older 50,000 years old. This period roughly coincides with the time modern humans started appearing in the region, and while it’s tempting to think the two events are related it’s still too early to tell.

Excavations of Holocene deposits at Liang Bua
Archaeological excavations of Holocene deposits at Liang Bua on the Indonesian island of Flores are seen in progress in this undated handout picture courtesy of the Liang Bua Team.
Photo: Reuters

Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia
Sutikna et al.
Nature, doi:10.1038/nature17179

Suspicious: Hobbits Vanish When Modern Humans Appear
Discovery News, 30 March 2016

Indonesian ‘Hobbits’ may have died out sooner than thought
Griffith University, 30 March 2016

A decade ago, researchers reported that evolutionary cousins of modern humans, nicknamed hobbits, lived until fairly recently in an Indonesian cave
AP, via US News, 30 March 2016

The ‘hobbit’ was a separate species of human, new dating reveals
Science, 30 March 2016

Scientists: New evidence Indonesian ‘Hobbits’ disappeared 50K years ago
KVAL, 31 March 2016

Diminutive ‘Hobbit’ people vanished earlier than previously known, scientists say
Reuters, via Malay Mail, 31 May 2016

Homo Floresiensis: A Profile Of The Extinct ‘Hobbits’ Of Indonesia
Tech Times, 31 May 2016

New Homo Floresiensis Dates May Quash Cryptozoology Theories About ‘Hobbits’
Forbes, 31 May 2016

The ‘hobbits’ were extinct much earlier than first thought
The Conversation AU, 31 March 2016

‘Hobbits’ extinct much earlier than first thought
Australian Geographic, 31 March 2016

Forget Tolkien, the scientific tale of real-life “hobbits” is even more complex
Ars Technica, 01 April 2016

‘Hobbit’ people were no match for the unstoppable juggernaut of modern man
Tech Insider, 04 April 2016

The Hobbit gets a little older, and science a little wiser
The Conversation AU, 05 April 2016

Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin species discovered in Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia), has generated wide interest and scientific debate. A major reason this taxon is controversial is because the H. floresiensis-bearing deposits, which include associated stone artefacts and remains of other extinct endemic fauna, were dated to between about 95 and 12 thousand calendar years (kyr) ago. These ages suggested that H. floresiensis survived until long after modern humans reached Australia by ~50 kyr ago. Here we report new stratigraphic and chronological evidence from Liang Bua that does not support the ages inferred previously for the H. floresiensis holotype (LB1), ~18 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (kyr cal. BP), or the time of last appearance of this species (about 17 or 13–11 kyr cal. BP). Instead, the skeletal remains of H. floresiensis and the deposits containing them are dated to between about 100 and 60 kyr ago, whereas stone artefacts attributable to this species range from about 190 to 50 kyr in age. Whether H. floresiensis survived after 50 kyr ago—potentially encountering modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through southeast Asia, such as Denisovans12, 13—is an open question.

Nature paper here.

Liang Bua popular with tourists seeking the ‘hobbit’

The Liang Bua site in Flores has seen a jump in popularity by foreign tourists due to the discovery of Homo floresiensis, but the site itself is not set up to receive tourists.

Liang Bua. Source: Pos Kupang 20150510
Liang Bua. Source: Pos Kupang 20150510

Turis Asing Dominasi ke Liangbua
Pos Kupang, 10 May 2015
Article is in Bahasa Indonesia

Regency to boost hobbit tourism
Jakarta Post, 11 May 2015

Situs Liang Bua, lokasi ditemukankan tulang manusia purba Flores (Homo Floresiensis) oleh tim penggali dari Arkelogi Indonesia dan asing tanggal 6 September 2003 menyedot perhatian wisatawan asing dari Eropa.

Kunjungan turis asing dari Benua Eropa dari kaum peneliti atau peminat khusus mendominasi kedatangan ke situs yang mendadak terkenal pasca penemuan manusia purba Flores.

Full story here.

The Boat on Dobo Hill

A bronze boat kept in a sacred forest in Flores continues to raise questions about its mysterious origins. The boat was recently the subject of a paper presented at this year’s EurASEAA conference in Dublin.

Tracking a mysterious artifact in Flores
Jakarta Post, 21 November 2012
Continue reading “The Boat on Dobo Hill”

The giant stork that lived beside the little hobbit

Science media have been picking up this story the last couple of days of the description of a giant stork fossil that was found on Flores, the home of our favourite hobbit Homo floresiensis. The fossils are described in a paper in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society; the giant stork is estimated to be 1.8 metres in height and are contemporaneous to H. floresiensis which gives us pause for thought – if storks could grow so drastically big in an island setting, why couldn’t have humans grown so drastically small?

Artist's impression from BBC

A new species of giant marabou stork (Aves: Ciconiiformes) from the Pleistocene of Liang Bua, Flores (Indonesia)
MEIJER, H. J. and DUE, R. A. (2010). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 160: 707–724. doi: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.2010.00616.x

Giant fossil bird found on ‘hobbit’ island of Flores
BBC, 07 December 2010
Continue reading “The giant stork that lived beside the little hobbit”

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

“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
Continue reading “Hominins on Flores by one million years ago”