MELANESIA ORIGINS 1

The stories of origins of man are slowly being rewritten. Australian and Indonesian scientists have discovered skeletons of a previously unknown human species standing only a meter tall on the Indonesian island of Flores, West of Timor.

The first skeleton was found in September 2003 in Liang Bua, a large limestone cave on the island of Flores. The one meter tall female was aged about 30 years and had lived about 18,000 years ago. Six similar skeletons were later found some of whom lived in the cave just 13,000 years ago. They were dark and hairless with sunken eyes, a flat nose, large teeth, a projecting mouth and no chin. Despite having a small brain, the species could cook, hunt large prey and build rafts. Stone artifacts and animal remains were found with the skeletons. 

A meter tall male Homo Floresiensis,
returning from a hunt with a Flores giant rat

The new species has been officially named Homo floresiensis and it is the most recent living human relative so far. Until this discovery, the only other human species known to have co-existed with modern humans (Homo sapiens) were Neanderthal man and Homo erectus. Neanderthal man lived in Europe, becoming extinct 30,000 years ago. Homo erectus lived in Asia, becoming extinct possibly 100.000 years ago. 

A Homo Floresiensis skull on the left
is dwarfed by the modern human's skull

Scientists have estimated that the Liang Bua cave was inhabited from 95,000 years ago with archaeological evidence indicating that the species arrived on Flores hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is probable that they needed rafts to get to the island and that they were much bigger than they later became. Genetic isolation over the milleniums (millenia) would have caused them to shrink.

One major unresolved question is whether the new species shared Flores with Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens left Africa about 100,000 years ago and reached Australia about 50,000 years ago. Evidence also indicates that a volcanic eruption killed the species about 12,000 years ago, however, they may have survived elsewhere on the island. Certainly, this is supported by the local mythology in Flores about these people which are consistent and incredibly detailed. The story suggests that there may be a grain of truth to the idea that they were still living on Flores up and until the Dutch arrived in the 1500s. The isolated Flores was a fascinating lost world which was home to a range of exotic creatures extinct everywhere and often morphed into giant or dwarf forms through lack of genetic diversity. These included a giant form of the primitive elephant stegodon, giant rats, Komodo dragons and even larger species of giant lizards.

Melanesian Origins

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