Ancestral Remains Of Mysterious ‘Hobbit’ Species Unearthed Could Shed New Light On Human Evolution

Homo floresiensis
Reconstruction of Homo floresiensis made by Atelier Elisabeth Daynes. (Image credit: Kinez Riza)

Reports by scientists on Wednesday found that half-sized humans who walked the planet 700,000 years ago were most likely the ancestors of enigmatic “hobbits” whose fossils were found on the same Indonesian isle back in 2013. Two studies were published in Nature journal that gave a whole new understanding to who these diminutive people were. Their difficult existence on the planet came to an end about 50,000 years ago.

A large amount of teeth and bones uncovered from an adult and two children show that Homo floresiensis came to the Flores island as a much different and larger species of hominin (means early man) about a million years ago.

These particular upright, tool-wielding humans became smaller from generation to generation until they were barely half their initial weight and height. This is a process known as “island dwarfism” which is well known to occur in a wide variety of other animals. Some species have been seen shrinking as much as six fold in an attempt to adapt to their environments that do not offer as many resources. Flores was also home to a miniature race of creatures very similar to elephants which were hunted by mini-men until their extinction. These elephant-like creatures were known as Stegodons.

This study demonstrates the first time there has been truly hard evidence that humans became smaller after being marooned on a spit of land transformed into an island by rising seas. Lead author of one of the studies, Adam Brumm says scientists can finally say the hobbit was real and was an ancient human species that is separate to ours and that no longer exists on the planet today.

The new fossils were dug up in central Flores in 2014 about 70 miles from the location of the 2003 hobbit remains. These discoveries answer questions such as “from which species did H. floresiensis evolve?” and “how long did it take for them to shrink?”

Two evolutionary scenarios are plausible regarding the particular origins. The first being that the ‘hobbits’ represent a kind of dwarfed Homo erectus from Java. Homo erectus stood up to six feet tall and weighed about 154 pounds. They are believed to have been the first human species to find their way into Africa. A specimen with a date of about 1.2 million years ago was found on the island of Java in the late 19th century. Teeth point similarities make them the most likely parents of the Flores humans according to Brumm.

homo floresiensis
Homo floresiensis height was around 106cm, bearing a small, chimpanzee-sized brain. (Image credit: Kinez Riza)

The second theory is that these creatures descended from an earlier radiation of more archaic, small-bonded hominins from Africa. A theory that has been debunked is that the hobbits of Flores were modern humans diminished by disease or genetic disorders. The most shocking finding during the latest study was that the specimens who were exhumed were not any larger than the creatures still living on the island 600,000 years later.

Co-author Yousuke Kaifu was stunned by the new fossils. He says anything that old was to be expected to resemble the much large Homo erectus, or even some other more primitive species. What he uncovered was a huge surprise. Brumm says this suggests that H. floresiensis is an extremely ancient species that evolved its small size on Flores at a very early period, maybe even soon after it came to the island about a million years ago.

Both studies were published in Nature and you can find the first one here and the second one here.