Liang Bua Cave has been well known to local people for many thousands of years – although they feared from it earlier. Reportedly, here lived the spirits of their ancestors. This is a giant, shallow grotto, some 50 m long, 30 – 40 m wide and 25 – 15 m high at the entrance. Cave long ago was formed by a river in Miocene limestone and now is adorned with numerous small stalactites. Ground of the cave is covered with a thick layer of sediments.
History of research
The large cave with its legends and obviously interesting layers of sediments caused the interest of scientists rather early. It was clear that research here could bring valuable knowledge about the prehistory of Flores.
First excavations were organized by a Dutch priest, Father Theodor Verhoeven and Indonesian scientists in 1950 and brought valuable knowledge. The research was continued in 1978 by the National Research Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta. Scientists were slowly digging deeper in the thick layer of sediments, receding into the more and more distant path – and new, interesting discoveries were coming one after another.
In 2001 the University of Wollongong (Australia) started a collaboration with Indonesian researchers and under the leadership of Michael Morwood there took place next excavations. Their goal was to find evidence of the migration of modern human – Homo sapiens – from Asia to Australia.
And then came the season of excavations in 2003 – now led by Indonesian scientist Thomas Sutikna. For some time sediments were less interesting and it seemed that the work of expedition is over. But then the spade of one of the most experienced members of the team –
local man Benyamin Tarus (he is working in the cave up to this day in 2018) – hit some bones and world-wide sensation happened. There was discovered a new, very unusual species of humans – Homo floresiensis!
Discovery of Flores people was unveiled to the public in October 2004. In this time the trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” was very popular and the newly discovered dwarf humans were nicknamed “hobits”. It was even proposed to name them Homo hobbitus.
After several years of political and personal disputes, the research continued, now with an increased passion.
Since 2010 excavations and research is done jointly by National Research Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta, Centre for Archaeological Science and the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program. Work is on-going and new discoveries are made each year.
Find of this dwarf human species was unexpected. Of course, in Indonesia, as in many other places of the world have been popular legends about small people – dwarves. There even live small people – in the nearby Rampasasa village live pygmy people. Nevertheless, these people, most likely, have nothing in common with the extinct humans of Liang Bua.
There still is little known about the Flores Man (Homo floresiensis) – after all, there have been found remnants of only nine people, all in Liang Bua. But something is known.
Is this a separate species?
Some scientists still are in doubt whether the discovered man represents another species. There are proposed theories that this was a group of ill people, affected by e.g. Down Syndrome or just a subspecies to other humans.
Nevertheless, the majority of scientists agree that Homo floresiensis is separate species.
When did they live?
Flores people lived some 190 – 50 thousand years ago. This time frame is not clearly set – most likely they lived here earlier.
The ancestor of Flores people could be another species of humans – Homo habilis. These primitive, comparatively small people lived some 2.1 – 1.5 million years ago, they left Africa and spread to Asia, possibly as far as the Indonesian islands.
As these people reached the smaller Flores Island, the scarce ecosystem could not sustain these comparatively large beings. Started a process of island dwarfism – with each generation the medium height of people decreased.
A very interesting find is some 700 thousand years old human remnants in Mata Menge Cave some 75 km east from Liang Bua. These teeth and part of jaw belongs to a locally adapted, dwarfed humans, most likely still belonging to Homo habilis species. It is highly likely that these were the ancestors of Homo floresiensis.
It is somewhat suspicious that they disappeared around the time when the modern people – Homo sapiens – came here. It is tempting to assume, that they were eliminated by the “next” humans – in Liang Bua have been discovered some 46 thousand years old teeth of other, most likely modern humans.
How did they look?
First discovered specimen – some 30 years old women – was 1.1 m tall (when she lived). Her weight was around 25 kg. She was comparatively large – another known Homo floresiensis was even smaller – 90 – 100 cm tall.
These people had a small brain, they did not have chins and had also other significant anatomical differences from the modern man – such as unusually flat and long feet. These seem to be the smallest species of humans and all hominids. Flores man was not too much similar to modern man – it was somewhat closer to early species of humans and even apes.
Were they intelligent?
In spite of the small brain, these people were sensible and rational. They made and used stone tools – small ones, corresponding to their stature. It is possible that these people successfully hunted local, dwarf elephants – remnants of this animal were found in the same layer where were found stone tools. It is possible that they even mastered the use of fire.
Other discoveries of Liang Bua
During the exploration, there were made other very interesting discoveries – turns out that Homo floresiensis lived in unusual and often sinister environment.
An important local animal in these times was dwarf elephant Stegodon florensis insularis. This interesting animal became extinct only 12 000 years ago. Stegodons lived in Africa and Asia and in general, were very large animals, larger than present-day elephants. As they reached islands, with each generation they became smaller. Nevertheless, this was not a small animal: height of Stegodon florensis insularis reached some 2 m. The dwarf Flores people could be hunting them but stegodons were dangerous adversaries. Liang Bua cave is the main find of these exciting animals.
Unusual find is the giant stork Leptopilos robustus – Liang Bua cave is the main location of its finds as well. This bird was up to 1.8 m tall and up to 16 kg heavy. Most likely it was not capable to fly. This large bird could be dangerous to dwarf people – after all they were two times taller.
In the cave were found also remnants of Comodo dragons – giant lizards still living on Flores Island. Here have been found bones of numerous other animals, such as the giant rats which now are extinct or nearly extinct.
Liang Bua are included in the following list:40 unique natural wonders of the world[/caption] This article is a kind of wonder by itself: after meticulous work of several years here has been collected a list of absolutely unique places, where nature has outdone itself and created something unique, just in one example.
- Flores facts – the Liang Bua Cave skeletons. Accessed in 14 September 2018.
- Future Learn, Homo floresiensis uncovered, last accessed in 12 September 2018
- Thomas Sutikna, Matthew W. Tocheri, et al. Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia. Nature volume 532, pages 366–369 (21 April 2016). http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature17179
Liang Bua on the map
If you see this after your page is loaded completely, leafletJS files are missing.
|Location, GPS coordinates:||8.5309 S 120.4434 E|
|Categories:||Fossil finds, Early human finds, Caves|
|Values:||Biology, Archaeology, Geology|
|Where is located?||Asia, Indonesia, Lesser Sunda islands, East Nusa Tenggara, Flores, Manggarai Regency, north from Ruteng town, at the base of Golo Tando mountain, near the confluence of Wae Racang and Wae Mulu streams|
|Meaning of name:||Liang – cave, Bua – cold, “Cold cave” (Manggarai language)|
|Length:||~ 50 m|
Though, those which we know offer a surprising diversity of unusual features and impressive sights.
Incorporating research findings over the last twenty years, First Islanders examines the human prehistory of Island Southeast Asia. This fascinating story is explored from a broad swathe of multidisciplinary perspectives and pays close attention to migration in the period dating from 1.5 million years ago to the development of Indic kingdoms late in the first millennium CE.
In Unlocking the Past, Martin Jones, a leading expert at the forefront of bioarchaeology — the discipline that gave Michael Crichton the premise for Jurassic Park—explains how this pioneering science is rewriting human history and unlocking stories of the past that could never have been told before. For the first time, the building blocks of ancient life—DNA, proteins, and fats that have long been trapped in fossils and earth and rock—have become widely accessible to science.