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New Research Asserts that the Hobbits of Indonesia Vanished Earlier than Previously Believed

New Research Asserts that the Hobbits of Indonesia Vanished Earlier than Previously Believed

The pint-sized Homo floresiensis, nicknamed Hobbits, may have met their demise much earlier than previously believed. Recent research suggests that they lived around 50,000 years ago and not between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago as initially claimed.

According to an article published in the journal Nature, the results of current research challenge previous reports that these inhabitants of the remote Flores island co-existed with modern humans for tens of thousands of years.

Phys.org says that the research project led by the Indonesian scientists, and involving researchers from Griffith University's Research Centre of Human Evolution (RCHE), discovered problems with the prior dating efforts at the cave site Liang Bua.

The new work was directed by the Associate Professor Maxime Aubert, a geochronologist and archaeologist at RCHE, who, with RCHE's Director Professor Rainer, measured the amount of uranium and thorium inside Homo floresiensis fossils to test their age. Aubert provided the newest conclusions:

"In fact, Homo floresiensis seems to have disappeared soon after our species reached Flores, suggesting it was us who drove them to extinction. The youngest Hobbit skeletal remains occur at 60,000 years ago but evidence for their simple stone tools continues until 50,000 years ago. After this there are no more traces of these humans."

In 2003, during the excavations at the limestone cave of Liang Bua, archaeologists discovered bones from diminutive humans unlike any people alive today. The skeleton was the remains of a primitive, small-brained and diminutive hominin. It was found buried 6 meters (19.69 feet) below the ground surface. The same excavation site contained stone artifacts and the remains of a pygmy elephant (Stegodon), a giant marabou stork, a vulture, and a komodo dragon.

Fossils of Stegodon aurorae (left) and Stegodon orientalis (right).

Fossils of Stegodon aurorae (left) and Stegodon orientalis (right). (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The previous results of radiocarbon and luminescence dating suggested that the hominin’s remains were from just 18,000 years ago. Additionally, the fragmentary remains of other individuals were thought to be deposited as recently as 12,000 years ago.

 Aubert believes that the new analysis by the team answers the question if the previous dating of the bones was done correctly or not.

Deposits containing the remains of Homo floresiensis.

Deposits containing the remains of Homo floresiensis. (Sutikna, et. al)

The researchers examined the remains of the nine Homo floresiensis. According to the Smithsonian's Human Origins website, the individuals stood approximately 3 feet 6 inches (1.07 meters) tall, weighed about 25 kilos (55 pounds), and had small brains and large teeth. The Hobbit (as it was dubbed) had shrugged-forward shoulders, no chin, a receding forehead, and relatively large feet compared to the short legs.

Cast of the entire LB1 (Homo floresiensis) specimen.

Cast of the entire LB1 (Homo floresiensis) specimen. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to the RCHE archaeologist Dr. Adam Brumm, who also participated in the study:

"They might have retreated to more remote parts of Flores, but it's a small place and they couldn't have avoided our species for long. I think their days were numbered the moment we set foot on the island."

He believes that the Hobbits are likely to have inhabited other Flores caves, which may yield more recent signs of their existence. But, Homo floresiensis probably suffered the same fate that befell Europe's Neanderthals - our species simply out-competed and replaced them within a few thousand years.

In February 2016, a group of French scientists, connected with France's Natural History Museum and Paris-Descartes University, published the results of research which confirm that Homo floresiensis is a separate species from Homo sapiens. Solving one problem, they created a new question - if the Hobbits are instead a scaled-down version of Homo erectus.

Previously, the analysis of H. floresiensis teeth confirmed that the shape of their teeth was exactly like modern humans. This led some researchers to suggest that they were merely a group of people who suffered from microcephaly, a rare neurological condition resulting in an abnormally small head, a small body, and developmental issues. The study led by paleoanthropologist Yousuke Kaifu, of the National Museum of Nature and Science at the Department of Anthropology in Japan also showed that the canine teeth of Homo floresiensis possessed an asymmetrical shape, and their molars had only four cusps, not the five found on the teeth of most primitive humans.

A cast of LB1 (a Homo floresiensis) (left) was compared to several microcephalic skulls, including that of a microcephalic (right) used by Henneman in his attempt to present LB1 as a microcephalic skull.

A cast of LB1 (a Homo floresiensis) (left) was compared to several microcephalic skulls, including that of a microcephalic (right) used by Henneman in his attempt to present LB1 as a microcephalic skull. (CC BY 3.0)

Featured image: The cave on Flores Island where the specimens were discovered (CC BY-SA 2.0), Homo floresiensis (the "Hobbit") (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Natalia Klimczak

Comments

Great article, and fascinating information about poor little floresiensis.

However, I can't help but to cringe every time they are referred to as "Hobbits." Sure, it is great for attracting web traffic and interest in sharing the article. But, pop culture is totally unstable, and can easily misconstrue any scientific information into a persistent misunderstanding that can take on an irrevocable life of its own in the wild world web.

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