ORIGINS AND ANCESTORS OF HOMO FLORESIENSIS (HOBBITS)

700,000-YEAR-OLD FOSSILS: LIKELY ANCESTOR OF 'HOBBIT'


One view of what Homo floresiensis looked like

There is a good evidence that a relatively large human that lived 700,000 years ago and shrunk quickly and stayed that size ago is an ancestor of Homo floresiensis according to two studies published in Nature in June 2016. Marlowe Hood of AFP wrote: “A modest haul of teeth and bones from an adult and two children has bolstered the theory that Homo floresiensis arrived on Flores island as a different, larger species of hominin, or early man, probably about a million years ago. And then, something very strange happened. These upright, tool-wielding humans shrank, generation after generation, until they were barely half their original weight and height. [Source: Marlowe Hood, AFP, June 9, 2016 \^/]

“The process, called "island dwarfism," was well known in animals, with some species shrinking as much as six fold in adapting to an environment with fewer resources. Indeed, Flores was also home to a miniature race of elephant-like creatures -- possibly hunted to extinction by the mini-men -- called Stegodons. This is the first hard evidence of humans becoming smaller after being marooned on a spit of land transformed into an island by rising seas. "The hobbit was real," said Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at the Research Centre of Human Evolution at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, and lead author of one of the studies. "It was an ancient human species that is separate to ours and that no longer exists on the planet today." \^/

“The new fossils were unearthed in central Flores in 2014, about 100 kilometres (70 miles) from the 2003 discovery of the hobbit remains. The find provided partial answers to key questions: from which species did H. floresiensis evolve, and how long did it take to shrink? Two plausible evolutionary scenarios remain regarding their origins, said Brumm. "The first is that the 'hobbits' represent a kind of dwarfed Homo erectus from Java," he told AFP.” But this theory has largely been dismissed. "The alternative theory is that these creatures descend from an earlier radiation of more archaic, small-boned hominins from Africa." \^/

“One theory that can now be set aside, the researchers said, is that Flores' hobbits were actually modern humans diminished by disease or genetic disorders. "This find quashes once and for all any doubters that believe Homo floresiensis was merely a sick Homo sapiens," said Gert van der Bergh, leader of the excavation and a professor at the University of Wollongong's Centre for Archaeological Science. \^/

“Most surprising was that the recently exhumed specimens were no larger than those still living on the island more than 600,000 years later. "I was stunned when I first saw these new fossils," said co-author Yousuke Kaifu, a scientist at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. Anything that old, he said, had been expected to resemble the bigger Homo erectus, or some other more primitive species. "What we found was a huge surprise," added Brumm. "This suggests that H. floresiensis is an extremely ancient species that evolved its small size on Flores at a very early period, possibly soon after it arrived on the island about a million years ago." \^/

The 700,000-year-old fossils were collected at the Mata Menge site in the So’a Basin on Flores, which was an African-like savannah at the time. Colin Barras wrote in New Scientist: “Tools found alongside the new bones are very similar to those that were recovered alongside the first cache of hobbit bones at Liang Bua. This hints that these hominins behaved in a similar way for hundreds of thousands of years – although there are some differences, says team member Adam Brumm at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. In particular the Liang Bua hobbits used tools to butcher animal carcasses – but no signs of butchery have been found on animal bones in the So’a Basin.“Maybe the [So’a hobbits] were primarily living on plant foods and using the stone tools for making digging sticks so they could harvest underground tubers,” he says. “It’s a bit of a puzzle.”“ [Source: Colin Barras, New Scientist, June 8, 2016]

Websites and Resources on Hominins and Human Origins: Smithsonian Human Origins Program humanorigins.si.edu ; Institute of Human Origins iho.asu.edu ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site becominghuman.org ; Talk Origins Index talkorigins.org/origins ; Last updated 2006. Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History amnh.org/exhibitions ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Human Evolution Images evolution-textbook.org; Hominin Species talkorigins.org ; Paleoanthropology Links talkorigins.org ; Britannica Human Evolution britannica.com ; Human Evolution handprint.com ; National Geographic Map of Human Migrations genographic.nationalgeographic.com ; Humin Origins Washington State University wsu.edu/gened/learn-modules ; University of California Museum of Anthropology ucmp.berkeley.edu; BBC The evolution of man" bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life; "Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans" (Video lecture series). Howard Hughes Medical Institute.; Human Evolution Timeline ArchaeologyInfo.com ; Walking with Cavemen (BBC) bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life ; PBS Evolution: Humans pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/humans; PBS: Human Evolution Library www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library; Human Evolution: you try it, from PBS pbs.org/wgbh/aso/tryit/evolution; John Hawks' Anthropology Weblog johnhawks.net/ ; New Scientist: Human Evolution newscientist.com/article-topic/human-evolution; Fossil Sites and Organizations: The Paleoanthropology Society paleoanthro.org; Institute of Human Origins (Don Johanson's organization) iho.asu.edu/; The Leakey Foundation leakeyfoundation.org; The Stone Age Institute stoneageinstitute.org; The Bradshaw Foundation bradshawfoundation.com ; Turkana Basin Institute turkanabasin.org; Koobi Fora Research Project kfrp.com; Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, South Africa maropeng.co.za ; Blombus Cave Project web.archive.org/web; Journals: Journal of Human Evolution journals.elsevier.com/; American Journal of Physical Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Evolutionary Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Comptes Rendus Palevol journals.elsevier.com/ ; PaleoAnthropology paleoanthro.org.

Tools Hint Another Hominin Lived in Indonesia with Java Man and the Hobbits

Stone tools have been found on Flores, at different sites than those associated with Homo floresiensis (the Hobbits), and these date back at least 1 million years. It is possible they were made by the hobbit’s ancestors, or maybe a different species of hominin that also crossed the Wallace line. In addition to this, stone tools have been found scattered on the gravelly shore of the Walanae river near Talepu, Sulawesi that other hominin might have lived in Indonesia the same time as the hobbits and Java Man (Homo erectus).


Homo floresiensis

Colin Barras wrote in New Scientist: “A collection of some 300 stone tools have been found at a site called Talepu on the island of Sulawesi, also in Wallacea. They date back at least 118,000 years – some might even be 194,000 years old – and include an array of choppers and sharp flakes. They are clearly the work of hominin hands, and they were found in sediments containing the fragmentary fossils of water buffalo and pigs. But the identity of the toolmaker is a mystery: the tools are so simple that almost any human could have made them, although their age makes it less likely that they were fashioned by Homo sapiens. [Source: Colin Barras, New Scientist, 13 January 2016, Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature16448 ^]

“Gerrit van den Bergh at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, and his colleagues, who found the tools, say there are at least three possibilities. It could have been the hobbit’s handiwork – the only early hominin we know definitely crossed the Wallace line. Yet Flores lies to the south of Sulawesi – and strong ocean currents in the area flow predominantly from north to south. “It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to cross [from Flores to Sulawesi] without any means of boat or raft technology,” says van den Bergh – the kind of technology the hobbit is not thought to have mastered. ^

“The tools could also indicate that other species made the crossing, perhaps Java Man (Homo erectus): who lived on Java, just a few hundred kilometres west of the line until some 500,000 years ago. Or they could have been made by an enigmatic group called the Denisovans. The Denisovans have at some point interbred with our species. Curiously, Denisovan DNA is only common in people today who live to the south-east of the Wallace line – which suggests that our species met and interbred with Denisovans only after crossing the line.^

“More clues to the toolmaker’s identity might come from even further north, given the way the currents flow through the region. “We think that the ancestors of the Talepu toolmakers came from either Borneo or the Philippines,” says van den Bergh. There have been very few archaeological searches of Borneo, so at the moment we know practically nothing about its fossil record. ^

“But the Philippines is beginning to reveal its riches. In 2007, researchers found a 67,000-year-old human foot bone on the island of Luzon. It was provisionally suggested that it belonged to an unusually early Homo sapiens to the east of the Wallace line. But there are also unpublished reports that more human fossils were found on Luzon in 2014 – and that these additional finds suggest that the Luzon hominin may have been a more primitive species. The ancient human colonisation of the islands to the south-east of the Wallace line is certainly a complex story, says archaeologist Roy Larick. But he says we can look forward to finding out more in the next few months to few years. “In totality, the coming papers should indicate that tool-using early hominins occupied a number of Wallacean islands,” he says.

Theories on Hobbit Origins

Kate Wong wrote in Scientific American, “Fossils that combine Homo-like skull characteristics with primitive traits in the trunk and limbs are not unprecedented. The earliest members of our genus, such as H. habilis, also exhibit a hodgepodge of old and new. Thus, as details of the hobbits’ postcranial skeletons have emerged, researchers have increasingly wondered whether the little Floresians might belong to a primitive Homo species, rather than having descended from H. erectus, which scientists believe had modern body proportions. [Source: Kate Wong, Scientific American, November 2009 *-*]

“A new analysis conducted by doctoral candidate Debbie Argue of the Australian National University in Canberra and her colleagues bolsters this view. To tackle the problem of how the hobbits are related to other members of the human family, the team employed cladistics—a method that looks at shared, novel traits to work out relationships among organisms—comparing anatomical characteristics of LB1 to those of other members of the human family, as well as apes.*-*

“In a paper in press at the Journal of Human Evolution, Argue and her collaborators report that their results suggest two possible positions for the H. floresiensis branch of the hominin family tree. The first is that H. floresiensis evolved after a hominin called H. rudolfensis, which arose some 2.3 million years ago but before H. habilis, which appeared roughly two million years ago. The second is that it emerged after H. habilis but still well before H. erectus, which arose around 1.8 million years ago. More important, Argue’s team found no support for a close relationship between H. floresiensis and H. erectus, thereby dealing a blow to the theory that the hobbits were the product of island dwarfing of H. erectus. (The study also rejected the hypothesis that hobbits belong to our own species.) *-*

“If the hobbits are a very early species of Homo that predates H. erectus, that positioning on the family tree would go a long way toward accounting for LB1’s tiny brain, because the earliest members of our genus had significantly less gray matter than the average H. erectus possessed. But Argue’s findings do not solve the brain problem entirely. LB1 aside, the smallest known noggin in the genus Homo is a H. habilis specimen with an estimated cranial capacity of 509 cubic centimeters. LB1’s brain was some 20 percent smaller than that. *-*

“Could island dwarfing still have played a role in determining the size of the hobbit’s brain? When the discovery team first attributed LB1’s wee brain to this phenomenon, critics complained that her brain was far smaller than it should be for a hominin of her body size, based on known scaling relationships. Mammals that undergo dwarfing typically exhibit only moderate reduction in brain size. But study results released this past May suggest that dwarfing of mammals on islands may present a special case. Eleanor Weston and Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum in London found that in several species of fossil hippopotamus that became dwarfed on the African island nation of Madagascar, brain size shrank significantly more than predicted by standard scaling models. Based on their hippo model, the study authors contend, even an ancestor the size of H. erectus could conceivably attain the brain and body proportions of LB1 through island dwarfing. The work on hippos has impressed researchers such as Harvard University’s Daniel Lieberman. In a commentary accompanying Weston and Lister’s report in Nature, Lieberman wrote that their findings “come to the rescue” in terms of explaining how H. floresiensis got such a small brain. *-*

“Although some specialists favor the original interpretation of the hobbits, Mike Morwood of the University of Wollongong in Australia, who helps to coordinate the Liang Bua project, now thinks the ancestors of LB1 and the gang were early members of Homo who were already small—much smaller than even the tiniest known H. erectus individuals—when they arrived on Flores and then “maybe underwent a little insular dwarfing” once they got there.” *-*


Compairison of skulls of homo species


Implications of the New Hobbit Theories

Kate Wong wrote in Scientific American, “In some ways, the latest theory about the enigmatic Flores bones is even more revolutionary that the original claim. “The possibility that a very primitive member of the genus Homo left Africa, perhaps roughly two million years ago, and that a descendant population persisted until only several thousand years ago, is one of the more provocative hypotheses to have emerged in paleoanthropology during the past few years,” reflects David S. Strait of the University at Albany. Scientists have long believed that H. erectus was the first member of the human family to march out of the natal continent and colonize new lands, because that is the hominin whose remains appear outside of Africa earliest in the fossil record. In explanation, it was proposed that humans needed to evolve large brains and long striding limbs and to invent sophisticated technology before they could finally leave their homeland. [Source: Kate Wong, Scientific American, November 2009 *-*]

“Today the oldest unequivocal evidence of humans outside of Africa comes from the Republic of Georgia, where researchers have recovered H. erectus remains dating to 1.78 million years ago. The discovery of the Georgian remains dispelled that notion of a brawny trailblazer with a tricked-out toolkit, because they were on the small side for H. erectus, and they made Oldowan tools, rather than the advanced, so-called Acheulean implements experts expected the first pioneers to make. Nevertheless, they were H. erectus. *-*

“But if proponents of the new view of hobbits are right, the first intercontinental migrations were undertaken hundreds of thousands of years earlier than that—and by a fundamentally different kind of human, one that arguably had more in common with primitive little Lucy than the colonizer paleoanthropologists had envisioned. This scenario implies that scientists could conceivably locate a long-lost chapter of human prehistory in the form of a two-million-year record of this primitive pioneer stretching between Africa and Southeast Asia if they look in the right places. *-*

“This suggestion does not sit well with some researchers. “The further back we try to push the divergence of the Flores [hominin], the more difficult it becomes to explain why a [hominin] lineage that must have originated in Africa has left only one trace on the tiny island of Flores,” comments primate evolution expert Robert Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago. Martin remains unconvinced that H. floresiensis is a legitimate new species. In his view, the possibility that LB1—the only hobbit whose brain size is known—was a modern human with an as yet unidentified disorder that gave rise to a small brain has not been ruled out. The question, he says, is whether such a condition can also explain the australopithecinelike body of LB1. *-*

“In the meantime, many scientists are welcoming the shake-up. LB1 is “a hominin that no one would be saying anything about if we found it in Africa two million years ago,” asserts Matthew W. Tocheri of the Smithsonian Institution, who has analyzed the wrist bones of the hobbits. “The problem is that we’re finding it in Indonesia in essentially modern times.” The good news, he adds, is that it suggests more such finds remain to be recovered. *-*

“Given how little we know about the Asian hominin record, there is plenty of room for surprises,” observes Robin W. Dennell of the University of Sheffield in England. Dennell has postulated that even the australopithecines might have left Africa, because the grasslands they had colonized in Africa by three million years ago extended into Asia. “What we need, of course, are more discoveries—from Flores, neighboring islands such as Sulawesi, mainland Southeast Asia or anywhere else in Asia,” he says. *-*

“Morwood, for his part, is attempting to do just that. In addition to the work at Liang Bua and Mata Menge, he is helping to coordinate two projects on Sulawesi. And he is eyeing Borneo, too. Searching the mainland for the ancestors of the Liang Bua hobbits will be difficult, however, because rocks of the right age are rarely exposed in this part of the world. But with stakes this high, such challenges are unlikely to prevent intrepid fossil hunters from trying. “If we don’t find something in the next 15 years or so in that part of the world, I might start wondering whether we got this wrong,” Tocheri reflects. “The predictions are that we should find a whole bunch more.” *-*


comparison of skulls of hominins


Wallace Line, Hobbits and Their Ancestors

Colin Barras wrote in New Scientist: “The strip of ocean that separates Borneo from Sulawesi, and Bali from Lombok, is just 35 kilometres wide in places. But for the mammals of the northern hemisphere it has historically marked a virtually impenetrable barrier called the Wallace line. This line marks a deep ocean channel that remained water-filled even during past ice ages, when sea levels saw channels between other islands in the region dry out. So mammals coming from the north were able to reach the islands to the north and west of the line. But the islands to the south and east – known as Wallacea – remained out of reach. Our species, Homo sapiens, is one of the few that managed to cross. We rafted across about 50,000 years ago. The diminutive hobbit, Homo floresiensis, also made it across. It was living on the island of Flores at least 38,000 years ago. [Source: Colin Barras, New Scientist, June 8, 2016]

The Wallace Line, an invisible biological barrier described by and named after the British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace. Running along the water between the Indonesia islands of Bali and Lombok and between Borneo and Sulawesi, it separates the species found in Australia, New Guinea and the eastern islands of Indonesia from those found in western Indonesia, the Philippines and the Southeast Asia. Because of the Wallace Line Asian animals such as elephants, orangutans and tigers never ventured further east than Bali, and Australian animals such as kangaroos, emus, cassowaries, wallabies and cockatoos never made it to Asia. Animals from both continents are found in some parts of Indonesia.

Wallace came up with the idea of a dividing line for animals after conducting surveys in the 1850s in Borneo and Sulawesi, where he was struck by how different the wildlife was on the two islands despite their close proximity to one another and their similar climates and geography. His letters to Darwin on the subject prompted Darwin to take a look as his own travels and make similar observations on some of the places he visited. In 1859 Wallace expanded on his observations and drew a line between Borneo and Bali to the west and Sulawesi and Lombok to the east and theorized that areas to the west---including the islands of Indonesia the Philippines---were part of a great Asian landmass and areas to east were connected to a greater Australian landmass, with Sulawesi containing elements of both the Asian and Australian landmass.

Studies of geology, ice ages and rising and falling sea levels conducted after Wallace's death — that among other things that Indonesia, the Philippines and the Southeast Asia were all connected by land bridges when sea levels dropped during ice ages — proved that his theories were largely correct. Further studies on the matter placed the furthest extent of Australian type fauna further east between the Moluccas and Timor.

Where Did the Hobbits Originally Come From


One theory of hobbit evolution

Where did the hobbits come from originally? Deborah Netburn wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “One hypothesis posits that Homo floresiensis descended from the large-bodied hominin Homo erectus that lived between 1.89 million and 143,000 years ago. Scientists say it is possible that Homo erectus may have arrived on Flores from Java, perhaps after being washed out to sea by a tsunami. Over time, this species began to shrink on its new island home – a relatively common phenomenon known as island dwarfism. “Lots of animals that end up on islands get smaller for a variety of reasons like limited food sources, or because there are no large predators to stay big for,” said Karen Baab, a paleoanthropologist at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz., who was not involved in the study. “We even see it in modern humans in certain environments that are home to pygmy populations.” [Source: Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2016 \*/]

“The other hypothesis states that Hobbits descended from smaller and more ancient hominins like Australopithecus africanus or Homo habilis that were already diminutive at the time they reached the island. Both theories have challenges. One might accept that Homo erectus grew smaller in stature by two-thirds over time. After all, a smaller body is easier to feed. But for some scientists, it is hard to believe that it made evolutionary sense for its brain to shrink by half. Losing brain power doesn’t seem like a likely evolutionary development. On the other hand, if you buy that Homo floresiensis was descended from Australopithecus or Homo habilis, then you have to explain how either of these species made their way to Indonesia when their remains have never been found outside of Africa. \*/.

Colin Barras wrote in New Scientist: Yousuke Kaifu, a scientist at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo says a new jawbone found in 2017 “has the characteristically thin, vertical shape of H. erectus – as opposed to the thicker, slightly curved shape typical of H. habilis jawbones. “The evidence definitely tips the scale towards a close relationship with early Javanese Homo erectus,” says team member Gerrit van den Bergh at the University of Wollongong, Australia, particularly given the lack of any evidence that H. habilis ever left Africa. [Source: Colin Barras, New Scientist, June 8, 2016 =]

“But not everyone is convinced. Given that the So’a hominins were already hobbit-sized 700,000 years ago, and that H. erectus didn’t arrive on neighbouring islands until about 1.2 million years ago, the hominins would have had only a few 100,000 years to shrink perhaps 70 centimetres to just 1 metre tall, and shed about half their adult brain volume. There is as yet no fossil evidence of this dramatic process in action. “There is still no ancestor-descendant sequence from Flores that supports body size reduction from a larger bodied H. erectus ancestor,” says Peter Brown at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, who led the original hobbit excavations at Liang Bua. But dramatic reduction in body and brain size could, in principle, have happened in such a short time, says Stephen Montgomery at the University of Cambridge, UK, who has studied evolutionary dwarfism in other primates. “The rate of change to dwarf an erectus in [a few hundred thousand years] would probably not make me choke on my cereal,” he says. =

“Another argument against the H. erectus dwarfing idea is that other parts of the hobbit skeleton look remarkably like H. habilis. In a commentary article published alongside the new papers, Aida Gomez-Robles at George Washington University makes a new suggestion that might explain this: perhaps the few H. erectus individuals that reached Flores just happened to have unusually primitive looking skeletons. “We must not rule out the possibility that the direct ancestors of H. floresiensis were not the most typical representatives of their species,” she writes.” =

Hobbits Did Not Evolve from Homo Erectus, Scientists Say


creatures that lived with the Hobbits

A bone study published in 2017 in the Journal of Human Evolution showed there was nothing to support claims that Homo floresiensis evolved from Homo erectus, which scientists say was an ancestor of modern humans, and thus did not have any direct links modern humans. Teeth similarities had been suggested as evidence that homo erectus and hobbits were linked.

Melissa Davey wrote in The Guardian: “The study, led by the Australian National University researcher Dr Debbie Argue from the school of archaeology and anthropology, found there was no evidence Homo floresiensis evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, the only other early hominin known to have lived in the region. It was one of several theories about the origins of the “hobbit” species. Since it was discovered, researchers have tried to determine whether Homo floresiensis was a species distinct from humans. [Source: Melissa Davey, The Guardian, April 21, 2017]

“A member of Argue’s research team, Prof Colin Groves, said the theory of a link with the Asian Homo erectus, the first of our relatives to have modern human proportions, was “a good scientific hypothesis”. “But we believe it has now been thoroughly refuted,” he told Guardian Australia. Groves said the researchers had gone into the study of the species with an open mind. But their findings support another popular theory: that Homo floresiensis was in fact far more primitive than Homo erectus and had characteristics more similar to Homo habilis, which lived between 1.65 million and 2.4 million years ago, and which is the most ancient representative of the human genus. |=|

“The researchers collected 133 cranial, postcranial, mandibular and dental samples from a variety of ancient and more modern species for analysis and comparison, travelling toseveral countries, including to Africa and Europe. The number of samples collected was more comprehensive and ambitious than had been carried out in the field before. Most previous studies of the species examined only the skull and lower jaw. The researchers also used modern methods of statistical analysis based on latest evidence. Homo erectus and floresiensis were found to have completely different bone structures, particularly in the jaw and pelvis.“A close relationship between Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis is rejected, which contradicts the proposal that island dwarfing of Asian Homo erectus led to Homo floresiensis,” the study concluded. |=|

“The findings add support to the theory that the species evolved from one in Africa, most likely Homo habilis, and that the two species shared a common ancestor. It was possible that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or the common ancestor moved from Africa and then evolved into Homo floresiensis somewhere, the researchers concluded. Prof Mike Lee of Flinders University and the South Australian Museum used statistical modelling to analyse the data collected by the researchers. He said the findings were clear. Homo floresiensis occupied a very primitive position on the human evolutionary tree,” Lee said. “We can be 99 percent sure it’s not related to Homo erectus and nearly 100 percent it isn’t a malformed Homo sapiens.” |=|

In a May 2009 report Nature Eleanor Weston and other researchers at the Natural History Museum in London suggested that the H. floresiensis skull might be that of an erectus that had become dwarfed from living isolated on an island. They made the proposal based on a study of extinct dwarf hippos on Madagascar, whose brains were 30 percent smaller than would be expected by scaling down their mainland African ancestor. Robert E. Eckhardt, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State University who remains skeptical, said that supporters of that interpretation “have ignored, overlooked, discounted or misrepresented the extent of normal and abnormal variation in morphological structure and biomechanical function that exists in members of our own species, Homo sapiens.” [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, May 6, 2009]

Are Hobbits Evidence That Homo Habalis or an Australopithecus Species Left Africa Before Homo Erectus?

The origin of Homo floresiensis (the hobbits of Indonesia) raises some interesting questions, one being that they could be descendants of predecessor of homo erectus —homo habalis or even a Australopithecus species — and this in turn could mean homo habalis or Australopithecus species could have emerged from Africa before Homo erectus.

Deborah Netburn wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “One hypothesis posits that Homo floresiensis descended from the large-bodied hominin Homo erectus that lived between 1.89 million and 143,000 years ago. Scientists say it is possible that Homo erectus may have arrived on Flores from Java, perhaps after being washed out to sea by a tsunami. Over time, this species began to shrink on its new island home – a relatively common phenomenon known as island dwarfism. “Lots of animals that end up on islands get smaller for a variety of reasons like limited food sources, or because there are no large predators to stay big for,” said Karen Baab, a paleoanthropologist at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz., who was not involved in the study. “We even see it in modern humans in certain environments that are home to pygmy populations.” [Source: Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2016 \*/]

“The other hypothesis states that Hobbits descended from smaller and more ancient hominins like Australopithecus africanus or Homo habilis that were already diminutive at the time they reached the island. Both theories have challenges. One might accept that Homo erectus grew smaller in stature by two-thirds over time. After all, a smaller body is easier to feed. But for some scientists, it is hard to believe that it made evolutionary sense for its brain to shrink by half. Losing brain power doesn’t seem like a likely evolutionary development. On the other hand, if you buy that Homo floresiensis was descended from Australopithecus or Homo habilis, then you have to explain how either of these species made their way to Indonesia when their remains have never been found outside of Africa. \*/.

A bone study published in 2017 in the Journal of Human Evolution showed there was nothing to support claims that Homo floresiensis evolved from Homo erectus, which scientists say was an ancestor of modern humans, and thus did not have any direct links modern humans. Teeth similarities had been suggested as evidence that homo erectus and hobbits were linked.

Melissa Davey wrote in The Guardian: “The study, led by the Australian National University researcher Dr Debbie Argue from the school of archaeology and anthropology, found there was no evidence Homo floresiensis evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, the only other early hominin known to have lived in the region. It was one of several theories about the origins of the “hobbit” species. Since it was discovered, researchers have tried to determine whether Homo floresiensis was a species distinct from humans. [Source: Melissa Davey, The Guardian, April 21, 2017]

“The findings add support to the theory that the species evolved from one in Africa, most likely Homo habilis, and that the two species shared a common ancestor. It was possible that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or the common ancestor moved from Africa and then evolved into Homo floresiensis somewhere, the researchers concluded. Prof Mike Lee of Flinders University and the South Australian Museum used statistical modelling to analyse the data collected by the researchers. He said the findings were clear. Homo floresiensis occupied a very primitive position on the human evolutionary tree,” Lee said. “We can be 99 percent sure it’s not related to Homo erectus and nearly 100 percent it isn’t a malformed Homo sapiens.” |=|

There is a good evidence that a relatively large human that lived 700,000 years ago and shrunk quickly and stayed that size ago is an ancestor of Homo floresiensis according to two studies published in Nature in June 2016. Marlowe Hood of AFP wrote: “A modest haul of teeth and bones from an adult and two children has bolstered the theory that Homo floresiensis arrived on Flores island as a different, larger species of hominin, or early man, probably about a million years ago. And then, something very strange happened. These upright, tool-wielding humans shrank, generation after generation, until they were barely half their original weight and height. [Source: Marlowe Hood, AFP, June 9, 2016 \^/]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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