Archaeology of the Flores Man Site: Liang Bua Cave, Indonesia

By K. Kris Hirst

Liang Bua is located in the Wae Racang Valley on the western end of the tiny island of Flores in Indonesia. Liang Bua is the name of the karst limestone cave from which Flores Man (a.k.a. the Hobbit) was found. The stratified site deposits are 12 meters in depth, and within the deposits have been found both modern humans and the hominin remains somewhat controversially called "Homo floresiensis".

Liang Bua Cave Formation

The cave was created by karst action nearly 400,000 years ago, but evidence suggests that it was invisible from the surface until about 190,000 years ago. Homo erectus appears on Flores Island beginning 840,000 years ago. Homo sapiens first appeared in the region circa 55,000-35,000 years ago.

Liang Bua's Hominin Remains

Hominin remains recovered from the site include LB1 (the original Flores Man, dated ca 18,000 years old), and elements from eight other individuals (dated between 12,000 years and 95,000 years ago. Modern human skeletal remains recovered from Liang Bua are all within Holocene levels (i.e., within the past 11-12,000 years or so). None of the bones recovered from Pleistocene deposits in Liang Bua cave appear to be modern H. sapiens.

Artifact Assemblages at Liang Bua

The artifact assemblages from Liang Bua include a fairly sophisticated suite of stone tools attributed to H. floresiensis, particularly within a level dated to ca. 74,000 years ago (+14/-12 ka) that contains stone artifacts with evidence of hard-hammer stone tool production. Raw material for the stone tools was mostly volcanic glass, with some marine limestone. The reconstructed stone tool manufacturing process is similar to sites of the same age found throughout Southeast Asia: a combination of off-site production of large stone blanks and on-site blank reduction. These methods were used by all hominids in southeast Asia around at the time: H. erectus, H. sapiens, and (assuming Flores is a separate species) H. floresiensis.


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