Abstract

Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin species discovered in Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia)1,2,3, 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 artefacts2,3,4 and remains of other extinct endemic fauna5,6, were dated to between about 95 and 12 thousand calendar years (kyr) ago2,3,7. These ages suggested that H. floresiensis survived until long after modern humans reached Australia by ~50 kyr ago8,9,10. 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)1,2,3,7,11. 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.

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Acknowledgements

The 2007–2014 excavations at Liang Bua were supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project grant to M.J.M. (DP0770234), a Waitt Foundation/National Geographic Society grant to M.W.T. and T.S. (No. 2121-2) and a Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Program award to M.W.T. Additional funding was provided by the Peter Buck Fund for Human Origins Research, the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program, the University of Wollongong (UOW) and the ARC (DP1093049 to K.E.W.). T.S. is supported by a UOW postgraduate scholarship, M.W.T. by a Canada Research Chair, M.A. and A.B. by ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DE140100254 and DE130101560, respectively), B.L. by an ARC Future Fellowship (FT14010038), R.G.R. by an ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship (FL130100116) and B.V.A. by a Victoria University of Wellington Science Faculty Research Grant (201255). QUADLAB is funded by the Villum Foundation. Fieldwork was authorised by Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (Jakarta, Indonesia) and Pemerintah Daerah Kabupaten Manggarai (Flores, Nusa Tenggara Timur). We also thank I Made Geria, V. N. Sene, R. Potts, P. Goldberg, K. Douka, G. Veatch, V. Rossi, A. Metallo, L. Kinsley, Y. Jafari, T. Lachlan, A. D. Nguyen, D. Yurnaldi, R. Setiawan, I Dewa Kompiang and the entire Liang Bua Team from Teras, Golo Manuk and Bere.

Author information

Author notes

    • Thomas Sutikna
    •  & Matthew W. Tocheri

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

    • Michael J. Morwood
    •  & Rokus Due Awe

    Deceased.

Affiliations

  1. Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia

    • Thomas Sutikna
    • , Michael J. Morwood
    • , E. Wahyu Saptomo
    • , Jatmiko
    • , Rokus Due Awe
    • , Bo Li
    • , Brent V. Alloway
    • , Mike W. Morley
    • , Gerrit D. van den Bergh
    •  & Richard G. Roberts
  2. Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional, Jakarta 12510, Indonesia

    • Thomas Sutikna
    • , E. Wahyu Saptomo
    • , Jatmiko
    • , Rokus Due Awe
    •  & Sri Wasisto
  3. Department of Anthropology, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario P7B 5E1, Canada

    • Matthew W. Tocheri
  4. Human Origins Program, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC 20013, USA

    • Matthew W. Tocheri
    •  & Hanneke J. M. Meijer
  5. Traps MQ Luminescence Dating Facility, Department of Environmental Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales 2109, Australia

    • Kira E. Westaway
  6. Research Centre for Human Evolution, Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland 4222, Australia

    • Maxime Aubert
  7. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia

    • Maxime Aubert
    •  & Adam Brumm
  8. School of Earth Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

    • Jian-xin Zhao
  9. QUADLAB, Section of Earth and Planetary System Science, Natural History Museum of Denmark, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Michael Storey
  10. School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington 6012, New Zealand

    • Brent V. Alloway
  11. Department of Natural History, University Museum of Bergen, University of Bergen, 5007 Bergen, Norway

    • Hanneke J. M. Meijer
  12. Research Centre for Human Evolution, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland 4111, Australia

    • Rainer Grün
    •  & Adam Brumm
  13. Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200, Australia

    • Rainer Grün
  14. GeoQuEST Research Centre, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia

    • Anthony Dosseto
  15. Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University Medical Center, Stony Brook, New York 11794, USA

    • William L. Jungers
  16. Association Vahatra, BP 3972, Antananarivo 101, Madagascar

    • William L. Jungers

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Contributions

M.J.M., R. P. Soejono and R.G.R. conceived and coordinated the original research program at Liang Bua (2001–2004). The new excavations were planned and directed by T.S., E.W.S. and M.J.M. (2007–2009), and by T.S., M.W.T., E.W.S., J. and M.J.M. (2010–2014). T.S. led the stratigraphic analyses, with major contributions from M.W.T., S.W., M.J.M., K.E.W., R.D.A., E.W.S. and J., and additional input from M.W.M., H.J.M.M., G.D.vdB., B.V.A., A.B., W.L.J. and R.G.R. Dating analyses were conducted by B.L. and R.G.R. (IRSL), K.E.W. (TL), M.A., R.G. and A.D. (234U/230Th, bones), J.-x.Z. (234U/230Th, speleothems), and M.S. (40Ar/39Ar). B.V.A. analysed the volcanic tephra, R.D.A., H.J.M.M., G.D.vdB., M.W.T. and W.L.J. analysed the faunal remains, and J. analysed the stone artefacts. T.S., M.W.T. and R.G.R. wrote the paper, with early contributions from M.J.M. and additional input from all other authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Thomas Sutikna or Matthew W. Tocheri or Richard G. Roberts.

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    Animated summary of the stratigraphy and chronology of the Liang Bua depositional sequence.

    Animated summary of the stratigraphy and chronology of the Liang Bua depositional sequence.

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