Age and context of the oldest known hominin fossils from Flores

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Abstract

Recent excavations at the early Middle Pleistocene site of Mata Menge in the So'a Basin of central Flores, Indonesia, have yielded hominin fossils1attributed to a population ancestral to Late PleistoceneHomo floresiensis2. Here we describe the age and context of the Mata Menge hominin specimens and associated archaeological findings. The fluvial sandstone layer from which thein situfossils were excavated in 2014 was deposited in a small valley stream around 700 thousand years ago, as indicated by 40Ar/39Ar and fission track dates on stratigraphically bracketing volcanic ash and pyroclastic density current deposits, in combination with coupled uranium-series and electron spin resonance dating of fossil teeth. Palaeoenvironmental data indicate a relatively dry climate in the So'a Basin during the early Middle Pleistocene, while various lines of evidence suggest the hominins inhabited a savannah-like open grassland habitat with a wetland component. The hominin fossils occur alongside the remains of an insular fauna and a simple stone technology that is markedly similar to that associated with Late PleistoceneH. floresiensis.

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