Liang Bua Homo floresiensis


Liang Bua


In August 2003, excavations directed by the late Michael Morwood (UNE) and the late Radien Sajono (Arkeologi Nasional, Jakarta), in the Pleistocene deposits at Liang Bua Cave, western Flores, uncovered the partial skeletal remains of a small-bodied and small-brained hominin, as well as a large number of stone artefacts and the bones of extinct fauna, including Stegodon (elephant relative) (Morwood et al., 2004). The combination of unique, derived and primitive traits in the LB1 skeleton resulted in its allocation to a new species, Homo floresiensis (Brown et al., 2004). In the following year, these discoveries were further enhanced with the excavation of additional skeletal components from as many as nine individuals (Morwood et al., 2005), and most of the hominin fossils, as well as their geochronological and cultural contexts, have now been published in detail (Brown et al, 2004; Falk et al., 2005, 2009; Tocheri et al., 2007; Brown and Maeda, 2009; Larson et al., 2009; Moore et al., 2009; Morwood and Jungers, 2009; Roberts et al., 2009; Jungers et al., 2009; Westaway et al., 2007; Brown 2012).

Homo floresiensis

Currently (2012), the evidence for H. floresiensis at Liang Bua, including the associated cultural deposits, is dated to between 95,000 and 17,000 years ago. However, in common with most caves, the depositional history at Liang Bua is complex and there were periods when the cave was flooded and sections of the deposit eroded and redeposited. Future excavation and analysis of stratigraphic relationships may result in some adjustment of the dates of the Pleistocene deposits, and the evidence for the apparently simultaneous extinction of H. floresiensis and Stegodon. It is unlikely that the evidence for extinction will draw closer to the Holocene, but a substantial increase in age would not be a great surprise.

Moving ahead nearly two decades after the original publication, more detailed archaeological and geochronological research at Liang Bua have modified the initial conclusions about the age of the Homo floresiensis and Stegodon deposits in the cave and the potential contemporaneity with modern humans (Sutikna et al., 2018; Sutikna et al., 2016). The revised stratigraphic and chronological evidence no longer supports the initially inferred ages for the H. floresiensis holotype (LB1), ~18 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (kyr cal. BP), or the time of last appearance of this species (about 17 or 13-11 kyr cal. BP). Instead, the skeletal remains of H. floresiensis and the deposits containing them are dated to between about 100 and 60 kyr ago, with the stone artefacts attributable to this species ranging in age from about 190 to 50 kyr (Sutikna et al., 2016). The simple explanation for why the initial dates from Liang Bua were revised is that a lot more was known about the stratigraphy of the cave deposits in 2015 than in 2003. Cave deposits are usually stratigraphically complex, with flooding, erosion, reworking and redeposition of different parts of the cave floor is common. Objects may move both vertically and horizontally through a deposit due to these processes, as well as treadage, animal burrowing and gravity. These are all issues at Liang Bua. The most reliable guide to whether faunal remains are in the original, undisturbed stratigraphic position, is when skeletal elements are still articulated, or in proximity. This was the situation with the LB1 H. floresiensis skeleton. It is also likely that some of the initial enthusiasm to add human-like cultural baggage, including the use of fire and stone tool cut marks on Stegodon bones, may have been an overreach. Some of the archaeologists (Mike Morwood) and geochronologists (Richard Roberts) believed that the Liang Bua hominins would have greater impact if they were firmly intertwined with the human story, rather than just being recently extinct, tool-making apes. Natural processes can produce scratches on a bones surface, as can the teeth of carnivores and rodents. A detailed analysis of the evidence for the use of fire by H. floresiensis has not been published (2022) and the "cut marks" that I have seen on Stegodon bones (2003-2005) could have resulted from processes other than hominin use of stone tools. 


LB1 3D horizontal LB1 3D vertical LB1 cranium
3D reconstruction of the LB1 H. floresiensis cranium and mandible based on low resolution CT data (1 mm slice interval). Rotation on the horizontal axis.
3D reconstruction of the LB1 H. floresiensis cranium and mandible based on low resolution CT data (1 mm slice interval). Rotation on the vertical axis. Cranium and mandible of LB1 H. floresiensis after initial cleaning and reconstruction in 2003.

(copyright Peter Brown 2003-2012)


The most complete skeleton (LB1) comprises a cranium and mandible, with bones of the right arm, pelvis, legs and feet, as well as less well preserved parts of the rest of the skeleton (Brown et al. 2004; Morwood et al. 2005; Larson et al. 2009; Jungers et al. 2009). Descriptive comparisons of the cranium, mandible and teeth have highlighted the unique combination of anatomical characteristics. For example, the brain volume (380-420 cubic centimeters) is similar to early australopithecines and living chimpanzees, the mandibular first premolars are elongated, asymmetrical and have complex roots (common in australopithecines and early Homo), and the mandible also has internal buttressing (reinforcement) most similar to early australopithecines (Brown et al. 2004; Brown and Maeda 2009; Brown 2012).

Although only one cranium (LB1) has so far been found (2012) there is postcranial and dental evidence from multiple individuals. For instance, there are three left mandibular premolars with the same distinctive crown and root anatomy (Brown and Maeda 2009; Brown 2012) and two mandibles (LB1 and LB6) that share a similar small size and set of primitive anatomical characteristics (Brown and Maeda 2009). The postcranial skeletal elements are all from extremely short hominins, with the estimated stature for LB1 of 105cm making it the “basketball player” of the group. Features shared with australopiths include relatively long arms, flared pelvis, relatively short legs and the shape of some bones of the wrist. The latter possibly limiting their manipulative skills. This contrast with the feet of LB1 that are similar in overall form to those in H. sapiens (big toe aligned with the others and foot clearly adapted for terrestrial bipedal walking), although relatively long as in chimpanzees and australopiths. Research by William Jungers and colleagues (Jungers et al., 2009) also suggests that the foot of LB1 lacks the longitudinal arch found in H. erectus and modern humans.


sangiran 17 LB1 LB1 skeleton
Dmanisi LB1

(copyright Peter Brown 2004-2005)


However, the allocation of these fossils to a new species has not gone unchallenged, with several independent teams arguing that morphologically and metrically the LB1 skeleton falls within the range of modern humans with particular developmental disorders or syndromes (Weber et al., 2005; Jacob et al., 2006; Martin et al., 2006; Richards, 2006; Hershkovitz et al., 2007, 2008; Vannuccia et al., 2011). In turn, these claims for pathology have been reviewed and found to be insubstantial and speculative, with the critics unable to present a modern human skeleton with the attributes of H. floresiensis (Falk et al., 2007, 2009, 2010; Brown and Maeda, 2009; Jungers et al., 2009; Aiello, 2010; Kaifu et al., 2010; Baab and McNulty 2009; McNulty and Baab, 2010; Brown 2012; Baab et al 2016).


(copyright Peter Brown 2005)

Stated concerns for those favouring a pathological interpretation of H. floresiensis include the association between the cultural remains and hominin fossils, the intellectual capabilities of a hominin with a brain the size of a chimpanzee, and a belief that Homo sapiens may have been contemporaneous with LB1 on Flores. The latter presumably driven by the archaeological evidence for modern humans on the Sahul Shelf and Bismark Archipelago by 45-46 ka (thousands of years ago) (OConnell et al., 2010) and on Timor at >42 cal BP (calibrated years before present) (O’Connor 2007).   These claims were recently reviewed by Brown (2012), who concluded that there is currently no archaeological or human skeletal evidence from Flores or Liang Bua, which indicates H. sapiens was on the island during the Late Pleistocene.

In the original description and interpretation of Homo floresiensis (Brown et al., 2004) it was concluded that this small-bodied and small-brained hominin was either the result of insular dwarfing of an Homo erectus ancestor on Flores, or was the descendant of an australopith/early Homo-like ancestor, with limited evolutionary change on Flores. With the description of additional H. floresiensis fossils in 2005 (Morwood et al., 2005), including the right arm, Peter Brown concluded that skeletal dimensions, scaling trajectories and the combination of plesiomorphic and unique anatomical traits, were not consistent with dwarfing in H. erectus. This theme was further examined in Brown and Maeda (2009). Resolution of this issue will depend upon the discovery of mid-Pleistocene hominin skeletal materials on Flores, or adjacent islands.

LB4 postcrania Liang Bua Stegodon
The only subadult evidence for H. floresiensis at Liang Bua are for the extremely small LB4 tibia and radius. Note the relatively long radius.
Mandibular and dental remains of pygmy Stegodon from Liang Bua.

(copyright Peter Brown 2005)

LB1 molar
Maciej Henneberg's claims about modern dental work, to repair caries, in LB1 H. floresiensis are untrue.
LB1 molar micro ct
Maciej Henneberg, Robert Eckhardt, Charles Oxnard and Peter Obendorf's claims about the evidence of taurodontism, and its implications, in LB1 H. floresiensis are also untrue.


floresiensis and erectu data craniometric data for LB1 H. floresiensis, H. erectus and H. habilis



Aiello LC. 2010. Five years of Homo floresiensis. Am J Phys Anthropol 142(2):167-179.

Baab K, McNulty K, and Brown P. 2007. Allometric Scaling of Craniofacial Shape: Implications for the Liang Bua Hominins. PaleoAnthropology 2007:A1.

Baab KL, and McNulty KP. 2009a. Size, shape, and asymmetry in fossil hominins: the status of the LB1 cranium based on 3D morphometric analyses. J Hum Evol 57(5):608-622.

Baab, K.L., Brown, P., Falk, D.j, Richtsmeier, J.T., Hildebolt, Smith, K., and Jungers, W. 2016. A Critical Evaluation of the Down Syndrome Diagnosis for LB1, Type Specimen of Homo floresiensis.PLOS ONE

Brown P. 2012. LB1 and LB6 Homo floresiensis are not modern human (Homo sapiens) cretins. J Hum Evol 62:201-224.

Brown P, and Maeda T. 2009. Liang Bua Homo floresiensis mandibles and mandibular teeth: a contribution to the comparative morphology of a new hominin species. J Hum Evol 57(5):571-596.

Brown P, Sutikna T, Morwood MJ, Soejono RP, Jatmiko, Saptomo EW, and Due RA. 2004. A new small-bodied hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia. Nature 431(7012):1055-1061.

Brumm A, Aziz F, Gert DvdB, Morwood MJ, Moore MW, Kurniawan I, Hobbs DR, and Fullagar R. 2006. Early stone technology on Flores and its implications for Homo floresiensis. Nature 441(7093):624-628.

Falk D, Hildebolt C, Kirk Smith K, Morwood MJ, Sutikna T, Brown P, Jatmiko, Wayhu Saptomo E, Brunsden B, and Prior F. 2005a. The brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis. Science 308:242-245.

Falk D, Hildebolt C, Smith K, Brown P, Jungers W, Larson S, Sutikna T, and Prior F. 2010. Nonpathological asymmetry in LB1 (Homo floresiensis): A reply to Eckhardt and Henneberg. Am J Phys Anthropol 143(3):340-342.

Falk D, Hildebolt C, Smith K, Jungers W, Larson S, Morwood M, Sutikna T, Jatmiko, Saptomo EW, and Prior F. 2009a. The type specimen (LB1) of Homo floresiensis did not have Laron Syndrome. Am J Phys Anthropol 140(1):52-63.

Falk D, Hildebolt C, Smith K, Morwood MJ, Sutikna T, Jatmiko, Saptomo E, Brunsden B, and Prior F. 2005d. Response to Comment on "The Brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis". Science (Washington) 310(5746):236-236.

Falk D, Hildebolt C, Smith K, Morwood MJ, Sutikna T, Jatmiko, Saptomo E, Imhof H, Seidler H, and Prior F. 2007c. Brain shape in human microcephalics and Homo floresiensis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 104(7):2513-2518.

Falk D, Hildebolt C, Smith K, Morwood MJ, Sutikna T, Jatmiko, Wayhu Saptomo E, and Prior F. 2009c. LB1's virtual endocast, microcephaly, and hominin brain evolution. J Hum Evol 57(5):597-607.

Hershkovitz I, Kornreich L, and Laron Z. 2007. Comparative skeletal features between Homo floresiensis and patients with primary growth hormone insensitivity (Laron Syndrome). American  Journal of Physical Anthropology 134:198-208.

Hershkovitz I, Kornreich L, and Laron Z. 2008a. ERRATUM: I. Hershkovitz, L. Kornreich, Z. Laron (2007) Comparative skeletal features between Homo floresiensis and patients with primary growth hormone insensitivity (Laron syndrome). Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 134:198–208. American  Journal of Physical Anthropology 136:373.

Holliday TW, and Franciscus RG. 2009. Body size and its consequences: Allometry and the lower limb length of Liang Bua 1 (Homo floresiensis). J Hum Evol 57(3):223-228.

Jacob T, Indriati E, Soejono RP, Hsu K, Frayer DW, Eckhardt RB, kuperavage AJ, and Thorne A. 2006. Pygmoid Australomelanesian Homo sapiens skeletal remains from Liang Bua: population affinities and pathological abnormalities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103:13421-13426.

Jungers WL, Harcourt-Smith WEH, Wunderlich RE, Tocheri MW, Larson SG, Sutikna T, Due RA, and Morwood MJ. 2009b. The foot of Homo floresiensis. Nature 459(7243):81-84.

Jungers WL, and Kaifu Y. 2011a. On Dental Wear, Dental Work, and Oral Health in the Type Specimen (LB1) of Homo floresiensis. Am J Phys Anthropol 145(2):282-289.

Jungers WL, Larson SG, Harcourt-Smith W, Morwood MJ, Sutikna T, Awe RD, and Djubiantono T. 2009c. Descriptions of the lower limb skeleton of Homo floresiensis. J Hum Evol 57(5):538-554.

Kaifu Y, Baba H, Kurniawan I, Sutikna T, Saptomo EW, Jatmiko, Awe RD, Kaneko T, Aziz F, and Djubiantono T. 2009. Brief communication: “Pathological” deformation in the skull of LB1, the type specimen of Homo floresiensis. Am J Phys Anthropol 140(1):177-185.

Martin RD, Maclarnon AM, Phillips JL, and Dobyns WB. 2006a. Flores hominid: new species or microcephalic dwarf? The Anatomical Record 288A(11):1123-1145.

Martin RDR, Maclarnon AMA, Phillips JLJ, Dussubieux LL, Williams PRP, and Dobyns WBW. 2006b. Comment on "The Brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis". Science (New York, NY) 312(5776):999.
McNulty, K.P., Baab, K.L., 2010. Keeping asymmetry in perspective: A reply to Eckhardt and Henneberg. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 143, 337-339.

Moore MW, Sutikna T, Jamiko, Morwood MJ, and Brumm A. 2009a. Continuities in stone flaking technology at Liang Bua, Flores, Indonesia. J Hum Evol 57(5):503-526.

Morwood MJ, Brown P, Jatmiko, Sutikna T, Saptomo E, Westaway KE, Due RA, Roberts RG, Maeda T, Wasisto S et al. . 2005b. Further evidence for small-bodied hominins from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia. Nature 437(7061):1012-1017.

Morwood MJ, and Jungers WL. 2009a. Conclusions: implications of the Liang Bua excavations for hominin evolution and biogeography. J Hum Evol 57(5):640-648.

Morwood MJ, Soejono RP, Roberts RG, Sutikna T, Turney CSM, Westaway K, Zhao J-X, Rink WJ, Bird MI, van den Bergh GD et al. . 2004b. Archaeology and age of Homo floresiensis, a new hominin from Flores in eastern Indonesia. Nature.

O'Connell, J.F., Allen, J., Hawkes, K., 2010. Pleistocene Sahul and the origins of seafaring, in: Anderson, A., Barrett, J., Boyle, K. (Eds.), The global origins and development of seafaring. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research,, Cambridge, pp. 57-68.

O'Connor S. 2006. New evidence from East Timor contributes to our understanding of earliest modern human colonisation east of the Sunda Shelf. Antiquity 81:523-535.

Obendorf PJ, Oxnard CE, and Kefford BJ. 2008b. Are the small human-like fossils found on Flores human endemic cretins? Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 275(1640):1287-1296.

Oxnard CC, Obendorf PJPJ, and Kefford BJBJ. 2010b. Post-cranial skeletons of hypothyroid cretins show a similar anatomical mosaic as Homo floresiensis. Plos One 5(9):e13018-e13018.

Richards GD. 2006b. Genetic, physiologic and ecogeographic factors contributing to variation in Homo sapiens: Homo floresiensis reconsidered. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 19(6):1744-1767.

Roberts RG, Westaway KE, Zhao Jx, Turney CSM, Bird MI, Rink WJ, and Fifield LK. 2009c. Geochronology of cave deposits at Liang Bua and of adjacent river terraces in the Wae Racang valley, western Flores, Indonesia: a synthesis of age estimates for the type locality of Homo floresiensis. J Hum Evol 57(5):484-502.

Sutikna, T., Tocheri, M.W., Faith, J.T., Awe, R.D., Meijer, H.J., Saptomo, E.W., Roberts, R.G., 2018. The spatio-temporal distribution of archaeological and faunal finds at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia) in light of the revised chronology for Homo floresiensis. J Hum Evol 124, 52-74.

Sutikna, T., Tocheri, M.W., Morwood, M.J., Saptomo, E.W., Awe, R.D., Wasisto, S., Westaway, K.E., Aubert, M., Li, B., Zhao, J.-x., Storey, M., Alloway, B.V., Morley, M.W., Meijer, H.J., van den Bergh, G.D., Grun, R., Dosseto, A., Brumm, A., Jungers, W.L., Roberts, R.G., 2016. Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia. Nature 532, 366-369.

Tocheri MW, Orr CM, Larson SG, Sutikna T, Jatmiko, Saptomo EW, Due RA, Djubiantono T, Morwood MJ, and Jungers WL. 2007c. The Primitive Wrist of Homo floresiensis and Its Implications for Hominin Evolution. Science. p 1743-1745.

Westaway KE, Morwood MJ, Roberts RG, Zhao JX, Sutikna T, Saptomo EW, and Rink WJ. 2007b. Establishing the time of initial human occupation of Liang Bua, western Flores, Indonesia. Quaternary Geochronology 2(1-4):337-343.


East Asian Index