In Nature in June, van den Bergh and his team announced finding hominin fossils of at least three individuals at a second site on Flores. The partial jaw, skull fragment and six teeth unearthed at Mata Menge are about 700,000 years old. The jawbone is at least 20 percent smaller than those from Liang Bua, suggesting H. floresiensis may have evolved from an even smaller hominin.
“My co-authors and I are convinced the fossils represent the direct ancestor of H. floresiensis,” says van den Bergh, now with Australia’s University of Wollongong.
For now, the Mata Menge fossils seem to expand the timeframe of H. floresiensis and confirm it was a distinct species. The vindication comes too late for Morwood, who died of cancer in 2013. Van den Bergh and his team continue to dig at Mata Menge where, the paleontologist believes, “there must be many, many fossils waiting to be excavated.”