Located about an hour’s drive north of Ruteng, Liang Bua is a natural limestone cave where in 2003, archaeologists from a joint Indonesia-Australian team discovered an almost complete skeleton of a primitive hominoid, a species later named Homo floresiensis but more popularly known as the ‘Hobbit’ due to its tiny stature.
Subsequent archaeological excavations and 3D mapping of the site by the Smithsonian Institution have turned up more skeletal remains. Dating of the bones and stone tools recovered from Liang Bua has led scientists to believe Homo florensiensis existed between 95,000 to 13,000 years ago making it the latest-surviving human apart from our own species Homo sapiens. Their disappearance has been linked to a volcanic eruption that occurred on Flores approximately 12,000 years ago. There are suggestions that the hobbit may have survived longer in other parts of Flores, fueled in part by a local Flores legend about small, hairy, cave dwellers known as ‘Ebu Gogo’.
As well as the hobbit, Liang Bua has turned up an array of stone tools and the remains of the extinct pygmy elephant Stegodon. Evidence of cut marks on the Stegodon bones indicate that Homo floresiensis was hunting and eating this animal.
A visit to Liang Bua is well worth the side trip from Ruteng. When we visited in July 2014, we were lucky enough to find a Smithsonian Institution dig in full swing and spent a fascinating hour getting a guided tour from a local liaison officer. But even if you’re not so fortunate, there’s something surreal about standing in a cave once occupied by primitive man pondering what their life may have been like. Additionally, the village at Liang Bua maintains a small but informative museum where you could easily spend an hour browsing.
You’ll need your own transport to get to Liang Bua. If you don’t already have a driver for your overland trip, ask your hotel in Ruteng to organise a vehicle for you. If you’re travelling by scooter, be sure to get good directions before leaving town as the road winds through a number of villages and hamlets and it would be easy to take a wrong turn.