The landscape at Mata Menge, the site under blue tarpaulin on the left of the picture. Photo: Gerrit van den Bergh, University of Wollongong, Australia
700.000 years ago, very small people already lived on the Indonesian island of Flores
The fossils of a very small human being, discovered a few years ago on the Indonesian island of Flores, attracted not only a lot of public attention, but also heated debates in the research community. Only about one meter mab the full-grown one "Man from Flores", which quickly earned the nickname Hobbit. Besides its tiny brain, some other archaic features puzzled the experts. Was this a new, unknown species of man, or just a sick individual of the species? Homo sapiens?
Now much older hobbits were excavated on the island, they lived before 700.00 years ago and they were already as small as their descendants. Thus the thesis of the ill anatomically modern man is finally off the table.
reconstruction of the appearance of Homo floresiensis by the Elisabeth Daynes studio, photo: Kinez Riza
In the current ie of the scientific magazine Nature, two recent studies about the Hobbit ancestors are published. Her remains were excavated in the center of Flores Island in the Mata Menge site, an ancient dried-up riverbed about 70 kilometers southeast of the Liang Bua cave where the very first Hobbit woman was found in 2003.
Mata Menge is a long known excavation site for fossils, which was specifically selected by the now deceased hobbit discoverer Mike Morwood together with the palaoanthropologist Gerrit van den Bergh from the Australian University of Wollongong as promising.
For several years, the team recovered the fossilized bones of extinct animals until 2014, when they stumbled onto a layer of sediment that had been virtually sealed by the mudslide following a volcanic eruption. There, within a radius of just 15 meters, they found the broken stucco of a jaw and six teeth from at least three different individuals, including two deciduous teeth of children.
The group of researchers led by Gerrit van den Bergh and Yousuke Kaifu from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo now present their findings in an article in Nature.
In another paper, an international team led by Adam Brumm of Australia’s Griffith University, van den Bergh and Iwan Kurniawan of the Indonesian Geology Museum in Bandung present the dating of the finds, which have an age of 700 years.000 years.
Researcher dispute about the human from Flores
When the first hobbit was discovered on Flores, its excavators classified it as a distinct human species and christened it Homo floresiensis. Immediately after the publication the controversy in the expert world began, many experts vehemently contradicted the classification as a separate species, a single find does not allow that at all.
Quick to refute was the accusation that they were a type of pygmaen. This colonial collective term is used to describe various small-growing groups of hunters and gatherers on the African continent. With them the coarseness of the brain is not reduced proportionally to the body however.
Most critics argued that this was probably a sick individual who could have suffered from microcephaly, a pathological reduction in the size of the brain and often the body as well.
The first find was the almost complete skeleton of an only 1.06 meter tall, but adult woman with an age of about 30 years and a weight of about 25 kilos (LB1). She has several characteristics that make her appear as a very early human form. Her thigh bones testify to her upright gait, but she has conspicuously long arms, strongly pronounced uber-eye bulges, a receding forehead and no chin.
Its brain has a volume of about 380 cubic centimeters – about as rough as that of a chimpanzee or a Australopithecus (cf. primitive yet human). However, their faces and jaws with teeth look anatomically more modern, which is why the discoverers ultimately assigned them to the genus Homo assigned to.
An amption based on scientific methods how the hobbit-woman LB1 could have looked like. Image: Hayes, Sutikna Morwood 2012, University of Wollongong
A very archaic, tiny human being who, according to the first dating, had an age of 18.000 years should have had. Which was revised in March of this year, as the team re-examined the Liang Bua cave in detail and found that natural events had shifted the layers within the soil there over time.
In fact, the hobbits lived there 60 years ago.000 to 100.000 years ago, some of their stone tools are a bit younger, about 50 years old.000 years old, so they could have been the first Homo sapiens, who probably arrived on the island around this time, still be encountered.
On Flores there is a legend about the Ebu Gogo ("All-eater"), hairy dwarves who were given food in front of their caves in prehistoric times.