Second Group of Tinier than Hobbit Hominins Found on Flores Island
Researchers announced today that in 2014 they found remains of a second group of even tinier archaic humans dating back at least 500,000 years before the “Hobbits” of Flores Island near Indonesia.
Scientists say the little people, called Homo floresiensis and discovered in 2003, lived on Flores Island about 100,000 to 50,000 years ago. They are likely descended from an earlier group of hominins who lived nearby on the same island about 700,000 years ago.
A facial approximation of a hobbit. ( Dr. Susan Hayes/University of Wollongong )
They speculate that the little humans evolved from large-bodied Homo erectus to Hobbit-sized creatures within 300,000 years.
Researchers are questioning whether Homo floresiensis lived alongside modern humans in Indonesia and whether Homo sapiens had anything to do with their dying out.
- Researchers claim Flores bones do not represent new species of 'Hobbit' human
- Prehistoric teeth found in China may point to mysterious new human species
“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 ),” said lead researcher Dr. Gert van den Bergh in a press release from his institution, the University of Wollongong in Australia. “It is conceivable that the tiny Homo floresiensis evolved its miniature body proportions during the initial 300,000 years on Flores, and is thus a dwarfed side lineage that ultimately derives from Homo erectus .”
The latest remains were found in layers of sedimentary rock. Dr. van den Bergh was also on the team that discovered H. floresiensis.
Researchers introduce a new article in the journal Nature by laying out the controversy surrounding who Homo floresiensis’ ancestors were. They wrote that some believe H. floresiensis were descended from Asian Homo erectus and “represents a unique and striking case of evolutionary reversal in hominin body and brain size within an insular environment. The alternative hypothesis is that H. floresiensis derived from an older, smaller-brained member of our genus, such as Homo habilis , or perhaps even late Australopithecus, signalling a hitherto undocumented dispersal of hominins from Africa into eastern Asia by two million years ago.”
One of the teeth that was found. Source: University of Wollongong
The researchers examined six teeth and mandible bones of three “small-jawed and small-toothed” humanoids found at Mata Menge on Flores in 2014, the same island where the H. floresiensis bones were found in 2003. The mandible and teeth found at Mata Menge date back 700,000 years and are even smaller than those of H. floresiensis, whose remains were found about 70 km (43 miles) away at Liang Bua.
H. floresiensis stood about 1 meter (3 feet) tall. The researchers are unclear if the size difference in jaws and teeth of the two groups is simply variations between individuals or between entire populations.
Aerial view of Mata Menge. ( Kinez Riza )
They assume the oldest artifacts on Flores, dating to at least 1 million years ago, were made by “large-bodied ancestors of the Mata Menge hominins” and go on to write:
“This apparently very fast transformation in hominin body size is surprising. Although no other documented examples of rapid island dwarfing exist for primates, we note that red deer from the island of Jersey had reduced to one-sixth of the body size in the ancestral population within about six millennia. Flores may have been an exceptional case; however, the fossil evidence from Mata Menge highlights how quickly major evolutionary changes could have occurred in hominin populations cut off on isolated and impoverished islands of Wallacea.”
The researchers tentatively concluded that H. floresiensis originated from Javanese Homo erectus humans of 1.2 million to 800,000 years ago. The H. erectus femurs were 55 to 61 percent longer and had brain size about twice that of H. floresiensis, the Nature paper states.
“All the fossils are indisputably hominin and they appear to be remarkably similar to those of Homo floresiensis ,” Dr. Yousuke Kaifu, another researcher on the team, told University of Wollongong news service. Dr. Kaifu said:
“The morphology 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 location of some of the fossils found at Mata Menge on a skull. ( University of Wollongong )
They researchers believe that the fact that the earliest evidence of hominins on Flores, going back about 1 million years, does not predate H. erectus on Java is evidence of the relationship between the two species.
News of the discovery of fossils of a tiny archaic human species Homo floresiensis that lived on the island of Flores piqued the imagination and delight of people around the world when it was announced years ago. People compared the species to the Hobbits imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings.
- Study Says that Hobbits of Flores Island Are Not Homo Sapiens
- The Faces of Ancient Hominids Brought to Life in Remarkable Detail
The University of Wollongong press release states: “The findings, also published in Nature, pushed back the time of disappearance of Homo floresiensis from as recently as 12,000 years ago to about 50,000 years ago, suggesting that they may have lived alongside modern humans in Indonesia, which begs the question – did we have anything to do with their disappearance?”
That speculation is tantalizing, but the press release does not elaborate. Scholars say when modern humans came into contact with archaic human species, the archaic peoples usually died out. Homo sapiens are the only species of homo that still exists today.
A second Nature article from today by some of the same researchers describes the finding of the fossils from 700,000 years ago and say that the remains were “deposited in a small valley stream” although the palaeoenvironmental information suggests that the area had a relatively dry climate at the time. This data suggests to the researchers that the “hominins inhabited a savannah-like open grassland habitat with a wetland component.”
Furthermore, the University of Wollongong is offering those interested in the mysterious “Hobbits” to learn more on the subject via a free month-long, online course beginning on July 18, 2016.
Top Image: An Indonesian scientist holds the skull of the remains of Indonesia's hobbit-sized humans in Jakarta on November 1, 2004. Credit: Beawiharta Beawiharta
By Mark Miller