In September 2003, Indonesian archaeologist Thomas Sutikna received news of a remarkable discovery in Liang Bua, a cave on the island of Flores. A tiny human-like skull had been found buried deep in sediment, sparking the curiosity and excitement of Sutikna and his colleagues. The subsequent excavation revealed not only the skull but an entire collection of bones belonging to the same individual.
As they delicately worked to uncover the fragile bones, Sutikna and his team realized they had stumbled upon something extraordinary. The bones belonged to an adult female individual, approximately 3 feet tall and weighing around 66 pounds. The discovery challenged the existing understanding of human evolution and opened up new possibilities for the human family tree.
To preserve the brittle bones, Sutikna used a mixture of acetone nail polish remover and on-site glue to harden them. The blocks of sediment containing the bones were then transported back to the hotel, carefully placed on the archaeologists’ laps during the bumpy ride.
Initially mistaken for the remains of a child, further examination revealed that the fossil belonged to an adult. The significance of this find cannot be overstated. After cleaning the fossil, Sutikna brought it to Jakarta, where it drew the attention of researchers worldwide.
Dubbed Homo floresiensis, after the island where the fossils were found, this new species presented a perplexing combination of features. Its braincase was similar in size to that of a chimpanzee, its legs were short with disproportionately large feet, and its arms were long like those of a primate. The initial carbon dating estimates placed the age of the remains at 18,000 years, but subsequent revisions suggest an age of 50,000 to 60,000 years.
The discovery of Homo floresiensis challenged the prevailing notion of a linear progression in human evolution and highlighted the gaps in our understanding of our own history. The enigmatic nature of this finding continues to intrigue scientists, who strive to decipher its place in the complex tapestry of human evolution.
– CNN: [link]
– Nature (studies published in Nature)
– Indonesian Center for Archaeometric Research, National Research and Innovation Agency.