By Colin Barras | October 29, 2015
The diminutive human hobbits of Flores had a basement. And early signs hint at the tantalising possibility of more Homo floresiensis bones in this newly discovered chamber.
H. floresiensis became a worldwide sensation when it was unveiled a decade ago. The fragile remains in a cave on Flores island in Indonesia told the remarkable story of a tiny species of early human, standing about 1 metre tall. What’s more, it lived as recently as 18,000 years ago – long after other early human species, including the Neanderthals, had disappeared.
Yet controversy remains over whether the hobbit is a separate species, or simply a population of unusually small Homo sapiens, at least one of whom had some form of disease that impaired brain development. This, sceptical researchers say, explains why the single hobbit skull found to date had a brain no larger than a chimpanzee.
More bones would finally lay the debate to rest, but so far searches of the Liang Bua rock shelter, where the hobbit remains were unearthed, have drawn a blank. Perhaps that’s because we’ve been looking in the wrong place.
In 2006, Michael Gagan at the Australian National University in Canberra and his colleagues visited the cave, and in one dimly lit corner stumbled upon the entrance to a steep passageway. They abseiled down and found a whole new chamber.
The team has now excavated the upper layers of sediment in the Liang Bawah cave. They uncovered animal bones, along with stone tools that are few centuries or millennia old, probably left there by modern humans.
But deeper, older layers in the chamber could contain H. floresiensis remains, they say. “Who knows what amazing ancient bones could be buried there?” says Gagan.
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