Fabled ‘Hobbits’ NOW Recognized As Legitimate ‘Human Species’

When the 1-meter-tall ancient human nicknamed “the hobbit” was discovered in 2004 it shocked the world, leaving supporters and skeptics longing for more fossils. Homo floresiensis stood about three and a half feet (1.1 meters) tall and weighed around 75 pounds (35 kilograms) and was originally discovered in 2003 in Liang Bua cave. The new fossil discovery has provided more clues.  “Since 2007, a lot more of the cave has been excavated,” says study co-author Matthew Tocheri of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Researchers found that the layers of sediment in the cave were not all evenly deposited and so varied widely in age even at similar depths which pointed to where to dig.

However they only found a fragment of jaw and isolated teeth—but the fossils’ diminutive size suggests they belong to the hobbit’s species, Homo floresiensis, or a precursor to it. They are securely dated to 700,000 years ago, hundreds of thousands of years earlier than the hobbit—and they are about 20% smaller

The "hobbit" (left) had a much smaller head than modern humans, as seen in this comparison image.

The “hobbit” (left) had a much smaller head than modern humans, as seen in this comparison image.

Homo floresiensis was famously nicknamed for the diminutive heroes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous novelsthe classic high-fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Researchers believe that the real-life hobbits made stone tools and might have survived predatory attacks from komodo dragons. Anthropologists on the original discovery team originally estimated that theseHomo floresiensis may have lived as recently as 12,000 years ago, which would mean that they outlived Neanderthals and might well have crossed paths with modern humans.  The prevailing theory is that H. floresiensis is either a descendent of a hominin that arrived on Indonesia in hobbit form, or a descendent ofHomo erectus that evolved into its smaller stature once on the island. This evolutionary process, called “island dwarfism”, occurs when a species becomes progressively smaller to reduce its food requirements on a resource-deficient island. The excavation site at Liang Bua was littered with remnants of pygmy elephants, which adds credence to this theory, showed the same adaptation. The smallest known species of Homo and Stegodon elephant are both found on the island of Flores, Indonesia.  However, some scientists are now considering the possibility that the ancestors of H. floresiensis may have been small when they first reached Flores.

Homo floresiensis, as its name indicates, lived on the island of Flores (Indonesia) only between 95,000 and 12,000 years ago. It was discovered 12 years ago. It is the only site where this species is found and now we have remains of at least 12 individuals with the same traits, so it qualifies as another species.

Via: National Geographic, Science

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