Abstract

Recent excavations at the early Middle Pleistocene site of Mata Menge in the So’a Basin of central Flores, Indonesia, have yielded hominin fossils1 attributed to a population ancestral to Late Pleistocene Homo floresiensis2. Here we describe the age and context of the Mata Menge hominin specimens and associated archaeological findings. The fluvial sandstone layer from which the in situ fossils were excavated in 2014 was deposited in a small valley stream around 700 thousand years ago, as indicated by 40Ar/39Ar and fission track dates on stratigraphically bracketing volcanic ash and pyroclastic density current deposits, in combination with coupled uranium-series and electron spin resonance dating of fossil teeth. Palaeoenvironmental data indicate a relatively dry climate in the So’a Basin during the early Middle Pleistocene, while various lines of evidence suggest the hominins inhabited a savannah-like open grassland habitat with a wetland component. The hominin fossils occur alongside the remains of an insular fauna and a simple stone technology that is markedly similar to that associated with Late Pleistocene H. floresiensis.

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Acknowledgements

The So’a Basin project was funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grant (DP1093342) awarded to M.J.M. and A.B., and directed by M.J.M. (2010–2013) and G.v.d.B. (2013–2015). The Geological Survey Institute (GSI) of Bandung, Indonesia, provided additional financial and technical support. G.v.d.B.’s research was also supported by ARC Future Fellowship FT100100384. M.W.M. was funded by ARC grant DP1096558. Quadlab is funded by a grant to M.S. from the Villum Foundation. M.D. received funding from a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013), awarded under REA Grant Agreement No. PIOF-GA-2013-626474. B.V.A. received funding from a Victoria University of Wellington Science Faculty Research Grant (201255). For permission to undertake this research, we thank the Indonesian State Ministry of Research and Technology (RISTEK), the former Heads of the Geological Agency (R. Sukyiar and Surono), the successive directors of the GSI (S. Permanandewi, Y. Kusumahbrata (formerly) and A. Pribadi) and Bandung’s Geology Museum (S. Baskoro and O. Abdurahman). Local research permissions were issued by the provincial government of East Nusa Tenggara at Kupang, and the Ngada and Nage Keo administrations. We also thank the Ngada Tourism and Culture and Education Departments for their ongoing support. In addition, we acknowledge support and advice provided by I. Setiadi, D. Pribadi, and Suyono (GSI), the Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (ARKENAS) in Jakarta, and J. T. Solo of the provincial Culture and Tourism office in Kupang. Scientific and technical personnel involved in the fieldwork included: T. Suryana, S. Sonjaya, H. Oktariana, I. Sutisna, A. Rahman, S. Bronto, E. Sukandar, A. Gunawan, Widji, A. T. Hascaryo, Jatmiko, S. Wasisto, R. A. Due, S. Hayes, Y. Perston, B. Pillans, K. Grant, M. Marsh, D. McGahan, A. M. Saiful, B. Burhan, L. Siagian, D. Susanti, P. D. Moi, M. Tocheri, A. R. Chivas, and A. Cahyana. F. Wesselingh identified gastropod remains. Sidarto (GSI) provided digital elevation model data used in Fig. 1b. Geodetic surveys and measurements were conducted by E. E. Laksmana, A. Rahmadi, Y. Sofyan, and G. Hazell. J. Noblett constructed the Mata Menge 3D model, based on drone aerial photographs taken by K. Riza, T. P. Ertanto, and M. Faizal. The research team was supported by ~100 excavators and support personnel from the Ngada and Nage Keo districts. We thank L. Kinsley, Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, for assistance with mass spectrometric measurements.

Author information

Author notes

    • Adam Brumm
    • , Gerrit D. van den Bergh
    •  & Iwan Kurniawan

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

    • Michael J. Morwood

    Deceased.

Affiliations

  1. Research Centre of Human Evolution, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia

    • Adam Brumm
    •  & Rainer Grün
  2. School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia

    • Adam Brumm
  3. Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia

    • Gerrit D. van den Bergh
    • , Brent V. Alloway
    • , Ruly Setiawan
    • , Dida Yurnaldi
    • , Mika R. Puspaningrum
    • , Unggul P. Wibowo
    • , Thomas Sutikna
    •  & Michael J. Morwood
  4. Quadlab, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, DK-1350 Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Michael Storey
  5. Geology Museum, Bandung 40122, Indonesia

    • Iwan Kurniawan
    • , Erick Setiyabudi
    • , Unggul P. Wibowo
    • , Halmi Insani
    • , Indra Sutisna
    •  & Fachroel Aziz
  6. School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University, Wellington 6012, New Zealand

    • Brent V. Alloway
  7. Center for Geological Survey, Geological Agency, Bandung 40122, Indonesia

    • Ruly Setiawan
    •  & Dida Yurnaldi
  8. Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia

    • Rainer Grün
  9. Stone Tools and Cognition Hub, Archaeology, University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales 2351, Australia

    • Mark W. Moore
  10. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3B1, Canada

    • John A. Westgate
  11. Department of Geography & Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth SY23 3DB, UK

    • Nick J. G. Pearce
  12. Geochronology, Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), Paseo de Atapuerca, 3, 09002-Burgos, Spain

    • Mathieu Duval
  13. University Museum of Bergen, University of Bergen, 5007 Bergen, Norway

    • Hanneke J. M. Meijer
  14. Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (ARKENAS), Jakarta 12510, Indonesia

    • Thomas Sutikna
  15. Cluster Earth & Climate, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    • Sander van der Kaars
  16. School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia

    • Sander van der Kaars
  17. School of Geosciences, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK

    • Stephanie Flude

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Contributions

A.B., G.D.v.d.B., I.K. and M.J.M. directed the Mata Menge excavations. M.S., B.V.A. and R.S. collected tephra samples and M.S. undertook 40Ar/39Ar dating. G.D.v.d.B. described the site stratigraphy, with R.S., D.Y., S.F. and B.V.A. ITPFT-dating of T3 was jointly conducted by J.A.W. and B.V.A., while EMP analyses of all So’a Basin tephra were conducted by B.V.A. and R.S. Comparative trace element analyses of interregional tephra markers were jointly undertaken by J.A.W., N.J.G.P. and B.V.A. E.S., F.A. and T.S. oversaw key aspects of the field project. M.W.M. analysed the stone assemblage, and G.D.v.d.B., H.I., I.S., M.R.P., U.P.W. and H.J.M.M. analysed the fauna. M.R.P. conducted isotopic analyses, R.G. and M.D. undertook U/Th and ESR analyses of faunal remains, and S.v.d.K. carried out the palynological analysis. A.B. and G.D.v.d.B. prepared the manuscript, with contributions from other authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Adam Brumm or Gerrit D. van den Bergh.

Extended data

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary References, Supplementary Tables 1,3 and 6-8 and legends for Supplementary Tables 1-9 (see separate excel files for Supplementary Tables 2,4, 5 and 9)

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Table 2

    Glass shard isothermal plateau fission-track (ITPFT) ages of T3 at both the Kopowatu (UT2382) and Lowo Mali (UT2383) sites within the So’a Basin (see Supplementary Information file for full legend).

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Table 4

    Glass shard trace element analyses of T3 correlatives from Mata Menge, Lowo Mali and Kopowatu, and T6 from Mata Menge (see Supplementary Information file for full legend).

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Table 5

    40Ar/39Ar dating results for Mata Menge samples (see Supplementary Information file for full legend).

  4. 4.

    Supplementary Table 9

    Results of the pollen and phytolith analysis, Mata Menge (see Supplementary Information file for full legend).

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17663

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