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When did the Hobbit live and when did it disappear?

Findings that shed light on when the Hobbit lived and disappeared.
© University of Wollongong

New findings that shed light on when the Hobbit lived and disappeared have shaken the scientific world…

Findings recently published in an article called ‘Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia’ (April 2016) overturn previous claims about the last known appearance date for the Hobbit. Research published in 2004 and 2005 showed evidence supporting the hypothesis that the deposits bearing the bones of the Hobbit and associated stone artefacts and remains of endemic, extinct fauna were dated to between 95, 000 and 12, 000 years ago. This meant that Homo floresiensis would have been roaming the landscape long after Homo sapiens had colonised Australia, and that the Hobbit was the last hominin species (other than us) to survive until after 40, 000 years ago. The new dates showed that this was not the case.

New and revised stratigraphic and geoarchaeological analyses highlight how some earlier interpretations of the archaeological sequence can differ from those made in later stages of research. Early seasons of excavations at Liang Bua (2001–2004) covered only a limited area of the cave, which did not allow for the identification and detailed analysis of an ‘unconformity’ that occurs close to where the Hobbit bones were originally discovered. This unconformity was most likely caused by water erosion, and resulted in errors being made in the original interpretation of the stratigraphy (as exposed at the time) and, therefore, errors in the ages assigned to the skeletal remains of the Hobbit (see Step 3.11, Contamination).

The 2007–2014 excavations allowed for the opening of new sections and trenches further inside the cave, which revealed new details crucial to reinterpreting the cave’s stratigraphy and the age of the Hobbit. A large pedestal of deposit in the middle rear of the cave was truncated by one or more phases of erosion that created the unconformity, mentioned above, which slopes down towards the mouth of the cave. This erosional surface would have been easily missed in the early excavations that were spatially limited.

A new, multidisciplinary dating and geoarchaeological program was designed to rectify potential errors, using numerous methods contemporaneously in different laboratories. These methods included:

  • Chemical analysis of volcanic glass using an electron microprobe
  • Infrared stimulated luminescence (IRSL) dating of feldspar grains
  • Thermoluminescence (TL) dating of quartz grains
  • Uranium-series (234U/230Th) dating of bones
  • Uranium-series (234U/230Th) dating of speleothems
  • Argon-argon (40Ar 39Ar) dating of hornblende crystals from volcanic ash
  • Radiocarbon (14C) dating of charcoal

These methods allowed scientists to finally pinpoint the ages of the skeletal remains of Homo floresiensis to about 100, 000 – 60, 000 years ago, and stone artefacts attributed to the Hobbit to about 190, 000 – 50, 000 years ago.

Eight years of further excavations and study at the Indonesian cave site of Liang Bua have pushed back the time of disappearance of the ‘hobbits’ of Flores (Homo floresiensis) from as recently as 12,000 years ago to about 50,000 years ago, according to recently published findings. Read more about these findings.

Optional see also

The discovery of skeletal remains from other hobbits indicate that they may have lived in Indonesia as far back as 700, 000 years ago. You can read more about these newly published findings in the internationally renowned journal Nature.

© University of Wollongong
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Homo Floresiensis Uncovered: The Science of ‘the Hobbit’

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