Mystery surrounds 118,000-year-old Indonesian tools recently unearthed by researchers, since no evidence of the people who forged them has been found.
Details regarding the curious discovery have been presented in the journal Nature, published on Wednesday, January 13.
Apparently, a total of 311 instruments fashioned during the Stone Age have been retrieved from the Talepu excavation site, situated in the southwest of Sulawesi island, from the Indonesian archipelago.
The artifacts consist of keen-edged slivers of almost impenetrable limestone, which were most likely employed by early humans in day-to-day activities such as food preparation (meat cutting), tool manufacturing (wood carving) etc.
According to Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at Griffith University, in Australia, the sharp chips were probably produced by smashing one river rock against another, but scientists are yet to determine who created these highly effective instruments.
Try as they might, paleontologists weren’t able to detect any traces of the population who inhabited the region at the time when the implements were produced, approximately 118,000 years ago.
There weren’t any human fossils in the immediate vicinity of the limestone utensils. Instead, all researchers were able to find were a couple of animal carcasses, belonging to a bygone species of elephant, and to another species of ancient swine, having tusks eerily similar to those of a common warthog.
Despite the fact that the identity of the tools’ crafters remains shielded in mystery for now, there are several theories regarding this prehistoric population.
The most convincing hypothesis, formulated by Gerrit van den Bergh, study lead author and archaeologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia, is that Sulawesi first became populated as an early predecessor of modern humans (probably Homo Erectus) arrived there from Java, carried by chunks of debris dislodged by tsunamis.
Eventually, across tens of thousands of years, a distinct line of early humans developed on the island, its evolution being completely separate from that of other ancient hominids.
A similar process occurred on Flores, one of the Lesser Sunda Islands located north of Australia. That’s where anthropologists brought to light the ancient remains of another early human.
This species, identified in 2003 at the Liang Bua cave and later named Homo Floresiensis, rocked the science world, as researchers had previously believed that they’d already categorized all the predecessors of modern-day human beings.
Homo floresiensis, whose moniker is “the hobbit” because of its diminutive size, lived sometime between 95,000 and 17,000 years ago.
Believed to have evolved from Homo erectus, the species gradually became smaller and smaller, because of a phenomenon called “insular dwarfism”, which progressively affects all living creatures that arrive on islands and other confined regions, without being able to return to their former grounds.
Homo floresiesis only stood around 3 feet 6 inches tall, but its miniature proportions didn’t impede him from successfully harvesting smaller-sized elephants.
Just like its mystifying neighbor from Sulawesi, Homo floresiensis was an adept toolmaker, but the difference is that this latter isolated species left more extensive proof of its habitation.
Researchers are still seeking fossils pertaining to the Sulawesi hominid, in the hope that this will assist them in mapping human evolution more accurately, while accounting for any potential missing links.
They believe that Homo sapiens populations actually came in contact with Homo floresiensis and with its Sulawesi cousin when they reached this region traveling by boat, approximately 60,000 to 50,000 years ago.
In fact, Sulawesi, Flores and other nearby islands such as Luzon probably provided migratory people with a brief respite in their first journey to Australia, which took place 50,000 years ago.
Some researchers are even speculating that Sulawesi hominids were actually part of the Denisovan species, connected with both Homo Sapiens and the Neanderthal man.
Denisovan DNA has persisted in the Aboriginal Australians’ genetic makeup, allegedly after these early humans reached the remote continent coming from Southeast Asia.
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