The discovery of Homo floresiensis: Tales of the hobbit

Ewen Callaway in Nature:

Hobbit2In 2004, researchers announced the discovery of Homo floresiensis, a small relative of modern humans that lived as recently as 18,000 years ago. The ‘hobbit’ is now considered the most important hominin fossil in a generation. Here, the scientists behind the find tell its story. The hobbit team did not set out to find a new species. Instead, the researchers were trying to trace how ancient people travelled from mainland Asia to Australia. At least that was the idea when they began digging in Liang Bua, a large, cool cave in the highlands of Flores in Indonesia. The team was led by archaeologists Mike Morwood and Raden Soejono, who are now deceased.

Roberts: It was a very small body. That was the first thing that was immediately apparent — but also an incredibly small skull. We first thought, “Oh, it’s a child.” There was a guy who was working with us called Rokus. He did all the faunal identifications of the bones. But Rokus said, “No, no, no, it’s not a child. It’s not modern human at all. It’s a different species.”

Saptomo: Thomas drew the skeleton on paper, and he faxed the drawing to Mike and to Professor Soejono in Jakarta.

Sutikna: Mike called me at night. I couldn’t understand what he was saying over the phone, he was so excited.

More here.