The big news of 2004 was the discovery by
scientists of a new and tiny species of human which lived in
Indonesia at the same time as Homo sapiens was
colonising the world.
Homo floresiensis was a one metre-tall
species (three feet) which lived on Flores Island (near Java)
between 95,000 to at least 12,000 years ago. Australian
archaeologists unearthed the bones while digging at a site called
Liang Bua, one of numerous limestone caves on Flores. The remains
of the partial skeleton were found at a depth of 5.9m (nineteen
At first, the researchers thought it was the
body of a child. But further investigation revealed otherwise.
Wear on the teeth and growth lines on the skull confirmed that
it was an adult. Features of the pelvis identified it as
female, and a leg bone confirmed that it walked upright.
The 18,000-year-old specimen, known as Liang
Bua 1 or LB1, was assigned this new species name of Homo
floresiensis. It had long arms and a skull the size of a
large grapefruit. The researchers have since found remains
belonging to six other individuals from the same species. LB1
shared its island with a golden retriever-sized rat, giant
tortoises, and huge lizards - including Komodo dragons - and
a pony-sized dwarf elephant called stegodon which
floresiensis probably hunted.
According to Chris Stringer, head of human origins
at London's Natural History Museum, the long arms were an intriguing
feature and may even suggest that floresiensis spent much
of its time in the trees. It was not known for certain, but if
there were Komodo dragons about on the ground then floresiensis
may want to be up in the trees with its offspring safe and sound.
This was something for future research to follow up, but the fact
that they had long arms is at least suggestive of such behaviour.
Floresiensis probably evolved from Homo
erectus, whose remains have been discovered on the Indonesian
island of Java. Homo erectus may have arrived on Flores
about one million years ago, evolving its tiny physique in the
isolation provided by the island in response to the local scarcity
What is surprising about this is that this
species must have made it to Flores over open water. Building
craft for travel on water is traditionally thought to have
been beyond the intellectual abilities of erectus, so
perhaps one group managed to use materials provided by nature.
Even more intriguing is the fact that Flores'
modern inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the
existence of little people on the island whom they call Ebu
Gogo. The islanders describe the Ebu Gogo as being about one
metre tall, hairy, and prone to 'murmuring' to each other in
some form of language. They were also able to repeat what
islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.