The Little People Hobbit Discovered!

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The folklore of many places speak of “little people (hobbit)”—human-like but not truly human creatures who live on the edge of humanity’s ken. They seemed mere legends, but in 2003 scientists found some (or, rather, their fossil remains) on Flores, an island in Indonesia.

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Comparison Hobbit Skull (Source: channelnewsasia)

Comparison Hobbit Skull (Source: channelnewsasia)

These remains, of individuals just over a meter tall, date from 60,000-100,000 years ago. They were called Homo floresiensis by their finders and “hobbit” by the press, after the fictional hominids invented by J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, some more, older, fossils have turned up.

Liang Bua Cave - Flores, Indonesia (Source: dailystar)

Liang Bua Cave – Flores, Indonesia (Source: dailystar)

The latest discoveries, published in this week’s Nature by Gerrit van den Bergh of the University of Wollongong, in Australia, and Yousuke Kaifu of Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science, go back 700,000 years. Dr van den Bergh and Dr Kaifu have recovered part of a jaw bone (pictured), six isolated adult teeth (five of which are pictured) and two milk teeth from a second site on Flores. One of the adult teeth, they believe, shows that Homo floresiensis descended from Homo erectus, a tall species widespread in East and South-East Asia, and not, as some have suggested, from a smaller type, Homo habilis, at the moment known only from Africa.

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Human Bones Shown With Stone Tools And Stegodont Teeth (Source: nationalgeographic)

Human Bones Shown With Stone Tools And Stegodont Teeth (Source: nationalgeographic)

Such scant remains risk over interpretation. But they do confirm Homo floresiensis as a real species (some experts thought the first set of specimens might have been dwarfed by disease rather than by evolution), and one with a long history. That history, indeed, overlapped with the spread out of Africa of Homo sapiens, which began about 70,000 years ago, via southern Arabia, and which reached Australia (presumably by way of Flores) around 50,000 years ago. For those proto-Australians, then, tales of the little people in the forests would not have been mere legends. (Source: The Economist)

 

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