A new discovery may mean big things for our ancient “hobbit” relatives. The original human “hobbits” were discovered back in 2003, more than ten years ago now. They are believed to have stood about three feet tall and dwelt on an Indonesian island. These Homo Floresiensis became extinct about 50,000 years ago. Their remains were found in a cave on the island called Liang Bua.
Now, on the island of Flores, forty-three miles from the spot where the first Homo Floresiensis were unearthed, smaller bones have been found. The remains are believed by scientists to belong to at least three different individuals and have been dated back 700,000 years. The Lilliputian humans’ remains were excavated from an ancient river bed at Mata Menge, according to Nature journal.
The new finds include six teeth, two of which are milk teeth that belonged to an infant, and a fragment of the jawbone. This jawbone is believed to have come from an adult but is about twenty-percent smaller than those of its more recent hobbit counterpart.
Researchers believe that this discovery lends weight to the theory that hobbits — named after the short beings in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga — evolved from an early ancestor of modern humans, called Homo Erectus. The hobbits then had become stranded on an island and shrunk in size.One of the researchers is Dr. Yousuke Kaifu, who hails from the National Museum of Nature and Science, located in Tokyo, Japan. According to Dr. Kaifu, “All the fossils are indisputably hominin and they appear to be remarkably similar to those of Homo Floresiensis.” He continued, “The morphology (shape) of the fossil teeth also suggests that this human lineage represents a dwarfed descendant of early Homo erectus that somehow got marooned on the island of Flores. What is truly unexpected is that the size of the finds indicates that Homo Floresiensis had already obtained its small size by at least 700,000 years ago.”
The original hobbits to be found (those that became extinct 50,000 years ago) were at first believed to have lived on Flores until pretty recently—as recent as 12,000 years ago. This was later revised to 50,000 after some tests were done on the remains.
When the team initially uncovered the younger hobbits, they thought that the remains belonged to modern humans who were affected by microcephaly. Microcephaly is a birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads. Since these hobbits were the first of their kind to be discovered, it was not an invalid theory.
The leader of this team was Dr. Gert van den Bergh, who comes from the University of Wollongong in Australia. He commented on the consequences such a find could have on our understanding of our own species’ history. “This find has important implications for our understanding of early human dispersal and evolution in the region and quashes once and for all any doubters that believe Homo Floresiensis was merely a sick modern human (Homo sapiens).”
As for how they lived, researchers believe that the ancient hobbits lived in a hot, dry savannah-like grassland, but would venture into the wetlands located nearby. There isn’t enough information to determine whether the hobbits were completely sedentary or if they were nomadic. Scientists have not yet commented on how intelligent they believe the hobbits to how been, but simple stone tools that are similar to those associated with H. Floresiensis were discovered in the same sandstone rock layer as the fossils. This indicates that although they might not have been capable of complicated mathematics, these hobbits did have some problem-solving abilities, as well as thumbs with which they used to wield these tools.