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Archaeology and age of a new hominin from Flores in eastern Indonesia


Excavations at Liang Bua, a large limestone cave on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia, have yielded evidence for a population of tiny hominins, sufficiently distinct anatomically to be assigned to a new species, Homo floresiensis1. The finds comprise the cranial and some post-cranial remains of one individual, as well as a premolar from another individual in older deposits. Here we describe their context, implications and the remaining archaeological uncertainties. Dating by radiocarbon (14C), luminescence, uranium-series and electron spin resonance (ESR) methods indicates that H. floresiensis existed from before 38,000 years ago (kyr) until at least 18 kyr. Associated deposits contain stone artefacts and animal remains, including Komodo dragon and an endemic, dwarfed species of Stegodon. H. floresiensis originated from an early dispersal of Homo erectus (including specimens referred to as Homo ergaster and Homo georgicus)1 that reached Flores, and then survived on this island refuge until relatively recently. It overlapped significantly in time with Homo sapiens in the region2,3, but we do not know if or how the two species interacted.

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Our work is funded by a Discovery Project grant to M.J.M. from the Australian Research Council (ARC), and by grants from the University of New England (M.J.M.) and the University of Wollongong (R.G.R.). R.G.R. holds an ARC Senior Research Fellowship, and C.S.M.T. and J.-x.Z. hold ARC Queen Elizabeth II Fellowships. C.S.M.T. also acknowledges the support of the Australian Academy of Science (J. G. Russell Award), the Natural Environment Research Council and Queen's University Belfast. The 2003 excavations at Liang Bua were undertaken under Indonesian Centre for Archaeology Permit Number 1178/SB/PUS/BD/24.VI/2003. Other participants included Jatmiko, E. Wahyu Saptomo, S. Wasisto, A. Gampar, C. Lentfer, N. Polhaupessy, K. Grant, B. Walker, A. Brumm, Rikus, Deus, Leo, Ansel, Agus, Seus, Camellus, Gaba, Rius, Beni and Piet. H. Yoshida and J. Abrantes assisted with IRSL and TL analyses, J. Olley made the high-resolution gamma spectrometry measurements, D. Huntley and O. Lian provided advice on anomalous fading, and R. Bailey suggested the isothermal measurement of red TL. Wasisto, M. Roach and K. Morwood assisted with the stratigraphic sections, plans and stone artefact drawings, and P. Brown and P. Jordan commented on earlier drafts of this paper.Author contributions M.J.M., R.P.S. and R.G.R. planned and now co-ordinate the research program funded by the ARC Discovery Project grant, which includes the Liang Bua project. T.S. directed aspects of the excavations and analyses. Ages were provided by R.G.R. and K.E.W. (luminescence); C.S.M.T., M.I.B. and L.K.F. (14C); W.J.R. (ESR); and J.-x.Z. (uranium-series). R.A.D. and G.D.v.d.B. analysed the faunal remains, and M.W.M. the stone artefacts. D.R.H. supervised the stratigraphic section drawings and other aspects of the project.

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Correspondence to M. J. Morwood or R. G. Roberts.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods and Table 1

Supplementary Methods of archaeological excavation, radiocarbon dating, luminescence dating, thermal ionisation mass spectrometry (TIMS) uranium-series dating, and coupled electron spin resonance (ESR)/uranium-series dating; list of ages and supporting data in Supplementary Table 1 (a) radiocarbon dating, (b) luminescence dating, (c) TIMS uranium-series dating, (d) ESR dating, and (e) coupled ESR/uranium-series dating; list of references cited in Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Table 1. (PDF 167 kb)

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Figure 1
Figure 2: Plan of Liang Bua showing the locations of the excavated areas (Sectors) and the hominin skeleton (in Sector VII).
Figure 3: Plan of the hominin skeleton as found during excavation of Sector VII at Liang Bua.
Figure 4: Stratigraphic section of the Sector VII excavation at Liang Bua, showing the location of the hominin skeleton.
Figure 5: Range of stone artefacts associated with remains of H. floresiensis and Stegodon.


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