Letter | Published:

Homo floresiensis-like fossils from the early Middle Pleistocene of Flores

Nature volume 534, pages 245248 (09 June 2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

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 environment1,2,3,4. 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.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for the So’a Basin project was provided by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grant (DP1093342) awarded to M.J.M. and A.B., and the project was directed by M.J.M. (2010-2013) and G.D.v.d.B. (2013-2015). The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science provided a grant (No. 24247044) to Y.K. Financial and technical support was provided by the Geological Survey Centre of Indonesia. The Indonesian State Ministry of Research and Technology granted permission to undertake this research, and we thank the successive directors of the Geological Survey Centre, Y. Kusumahbrata, A. Wibowo and A. Pribadi, the Heads of the Geological Agency (R. Sukyiar and Surono), and the successive directors of the Geology Museum in Bandung (S. Baskoro and O. Abdurahman) for facilitating and supporting this research. In addition, we acknowledge support and advice provided by I. Setiadi, D. Pribadi and Suyono. We also thank M. R. Puspaningrum, H. Insani, I. Sutisna, S. Sonjaya, U. P. Wibowo, A. Gunawan, A. M. Saiful, S. Hayes, B. Burhan, E. Sukandar, A. Rahman, A. Rahmadi and E. E. Laksmana for their assistance in the field (2014–2015), and G. Suwa, T. Djubiantono, F. Aziz, T. Jacob, E. Mbua, F. Schrenk, I. Tattersall, K. Mowbray, J. de Vos, P. Mennecier, F. Demeter, Nguyen Kim Thuy, and Nguyen Lan Cuong for access to the specimens in their care.

Author information

Author notes

    • Gerrit D. van den Bergh
    •  & Yousuke Kaifu

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

    • Michael J. Morwood

    Deceased.

Affiliations

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

    • Gerrit D. van den Bergh
    •  & Michael J. Morwood
  2. Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Nature and Science, 4-1-1 Amakubo, Tsukuba-shi, Ibaraki 305-0005, Japan

    • Yousuke Kaifu
    •  & Reiko T. Kono
  3. Geology Museum Bandung, Geological Agency, Jalan Diponegoro 57, Bandung 40122, Indonesia

    • Iwan Kurniawan
    • , Erick Setiyabudi
    •  & Fachroel Aziz
  4. Research Centre of Human Evolution, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland 4111, Australia

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

    • Adam Brumm

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Contributions

G.D.v.d.B. is co-director of the So’a Basin project with A.B. and I.K. M.J.M. (deceased) was also a co-director of the So’a Basin project. The project was initiated by M.J.M. and F.A. G.D.v.d.B. and I.K. undertook initial identification and analyses of the hominin fossils. Y.K. conducted the morphological analysis together with R.T.K. Fieldwork was planned and directed by G.D.v.d.B., I.K., A.B. and E.S.. Y.K., G.D.v.d.B. and A.B. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yousuke Kaifu.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature17999

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