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Excavations at Liang Bua

The discovery of Homo floresiensis and ensuing excavations at Liang Bua
My name is Thomas Sutikna. I am currently affiliated with the National Research Centre of Archaeology in Indonesia. But I am currently also a PhD student at the University of Wollongong in Australia. And now we continue excavating Liang Bua cave, where in 2003 we found Homo florensiensis, known as a “hobbit.” And here this is the original square where we found homo florensiensis in sector seven, and about six metres deep. And now we continue and extend the excavation square. And we hope we found another skeleton remains of homo florensiensis. Now we tried to open up another square in the centre here in order to trace the stratigraphic correlation. We also found the homo florensiensis bones in sector four in 2001.
And the first time we still thought, what is that? We just found ideas, but not really clear that it’s hominins or not hominin. But after 2003, all of us were sure
that it is a new species: Homo florensiensis. So this year we’re digging in two spots. There’s a very deep excavation over here, towards the front of the cave. But it’s actually over there that we found the type specimen of the hobbit, homo florensiensis just over there. So we’re now pushing around. Each year we take out another sector, as we call them, close to where the hobbit was found, to try to understand the sediments very close to the discovery spot. But we’re also looking at this little trench here this year, which is actually digging into much younger materials. One of the questions we have is how long did the hobbit survive?
What was its interaction with our species, modern humans, which was coming through this part of the world at that particular time? We don’t know, because we don’t actually have that age of deposit over on that side of the cave. But we do have them here. So this year we’re stretching out in this direction. And as you go further and further back up the hill, we’re getting more of these intermediate age samples. Not so young that it’s just homo sapiens, our species. And not so old that it’s only hobbit. But something in between the two. Coming forward you see different kinds of deposit as well, different kinds of volcanic ash.
So the other thing we’re trying to work out is how all of these relate to each other. It’s sometimes a bit difficult to work it out in the cave, because they sort of come and they go. Some get eroded. Some get left behind in different paths. So some of the game is trying to work out how the deposits relate to each other, and then try to work out how the bones relate to each other with the artefacts we find in them. So this one’s kind of almost a young section, as opposed to an old one. If you want to dig really deep, we’ll get into stuff that’s much, much older.
But even at the very back of that far one, it’s a very compressed sequence in terms of how much deposit has accumulated over time. So you probably have some very old deposits at the very back of that section. So I think next year we’ll stretch it out both sides to try and get more material out, more hopefully hobbit material, more modern human material, and a better understanding of how all the sediments fit together. Firstly we have to make sure they’re level. We’ve done every 10 centimetres. But we also follow the stratigraphic unit. If the stratigraphic units slide down, then we follow 10, 10, 10, 10 centimetres. And then all the findings, we plot it in 3D.
And also we took photographs, we made the drawing. And all the sediment we’re pouring here, like a pile here. And we have some people sorting it manually with hands. After that we bring all the sediment to the paddy field there. We call it wet sifting. And then we wash all the sediment in the paddy field there. But before hand, we have to select it, and wash, and untouch the sample, like stone artefacts, and also the charcoal, and also bones, for laboratory process. And then from that, all of the findings will be packaged, labelled, and then later all the bones will be preserved before bringing them back to Jakarta for further analysis.

As we continue to follow the excavations in Liang Bua, we learn about various methods of handling and examining evidence in the cave.

Some of processes that the team have been engaging with include:

  • Tracing stratigraphic correlations
  • Excavating surrounding deposits
  • Gathering intermediate-age samples
  • Analysing how deposits relate to each other
  • Investigating how bones and artefacts relate to each other
  • Recording findings (3D plots, photographs, drawings etc.)
  • Sorting sediments
  • Wet sieving
  • Packaging and labelling finds
  • Preserving bones
  • Relocating artefacts for further analysis in the lab

Throughout this week, we will be looking at some of these processes in further detail. In the following step, we begin by looking at the role of stratigraphy…

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Homo Floresiensis Uncovered: The Science of ‘the Hobbit’

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