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Tool find hints Java Man and hobbit had early human neighbour

Tool find hints Java Man and hobbit had early human neighbour

New Scientist

Image: Erick Setiabudi

The infamous hobbit may not have been the only ancient human species to travel deep into Indonesia. A collection of stone tools found on the island of Sulawesi hints that other early humans might have lived there too.

The strip of ocean that separates Borneo from Sulawesi, and Bali from Lombok, is just 35 kilometres wide in places. But for the mammals of the northern hemisphere it has historically marked a virtually impenetrable barrier called the Wallace line.

This line marks a deep ocean channel that remained water-filled even during past ice ages, when sea levels saw channels between other islands in the region dry out.

So mammals coming from the north were able to reach the islands to the north and west of the line. But the islands to the south and east – known as Wallacea – remained out of reach.

Our species, Homo sapiens, is one of the few that managed to cross. We rafted across about 50,000 years ago.

The diminutive hobbit, Homo floresiensis, also made it across. It was living on the island of Flores at least 38,000 years ago.

Stone tools have also been found on Flores, at different sites, and these date back at least 1 million years. It is possible they were made by the hobbit’s ancestors, or by a different species of hominin that also crossed the Wallace line.

Now a collection of some 300 stone tools have been found at a site called Talepu on the island of Sulawesi, also in Wallacea. They date back at least 118,000 years – some might even be 194,000 years old – and include an array of choppers and sharp flakes. Read more on…