HOBBITS OF INDONESIA
Homo floresiensis In 2004, scientists announced the discovery of the remains of seven hominins on the island of Flores, east of Bali, dated to 95,000 and 12,000 years ago. The bones were first thought to be children but were later confirmed to be a new hominin species, considerably smaller than modern humans, and thus nicknamed Hobbits. The finding received headlines around the globe and caused jaws to drop in astonishment throughout the scientific community. [Source: Mike Norwood, Thomas Sutikna and Richard Robert, National Geographic, April 2005]
Discovered in 2003,the new hominins were given the name the “ Homo floresiernsis”. About 1.1 meters tall, they had unusually long, flat feet and a brain the size of a grapefruit. They existed at the same time as modern humans and are thought to have descended from “ Homo erectus” and arrived in Flores perhaps as long as 840,000 years, the period in which stone stools found on Flores have been dated. Hominins on the island had to have arrived by sea because even during ice ages reaching Flores required a 15 mile sea crossing. Dating was done with carbon dating of charcoal found near the fossils and luminescence dating of the sediments in which the fossils were found.
Remains dated to be 18,000 years old were found in September 2003 in a cave in eastern Flores known to the local Manggarai people as Liang Bua. The remains included the skull, pelvis, leg, arm and foot bones of a female; the lower jaw from another adult; and flaked stone tools, perhaps arrow heads or spear points. Wear on the teeth indicated the creatures were adults not children. The presence of a number of individuals the same size indicated the remains weren’t from modern human stunted by disease, malnutrition or dwarfism.
The bones were unearthed by a team of Australians and Indonesian scientists, led by Michael Morwood, an archaeologist at Australia’s University of New England, who later got into disputes over possession of the fossils, and their meaning. At one point excavations were stopped when the Indonesian Institute of Science banned digging in the cave. The bones were found 20 feet under the floor of the cave. One Indonesia scientist, Teuku Jacob, commandeered the bones and had them shipped to his house in Yogyakarta, in the process breaking some of the other bones and denying other team members access to them.
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.
Features of the Hobbits in Indonesia
The small hominins found on Flores stood only three feet tall and weighed only 55 pounds, about a third of the size of a modern human adult, and had brains considerably smaller than any other hominin, and even smaller than most chimpanzee adults. Their pelvis was wider than modern humans and homo erectus; their arms hung almost below the knees but their wrists bones were delicate implying that it was not a tree climber. The skull was pinched in at the temples like “ Homo erectus” skulls found in Dmanisi, Georgia.
The anthropologist Matt Tocheri wrote: “The skeletal evidence suggests that adults of this species had extremely small brains (400 cubic centimeters), stood only about 1 meter (3'6") tall, and weighed around 30 kg (66 lbs). For their height, these individuals have large body masses, and in this regard appear more similar to earlier hominins like "Lucy" (Australopithecus afarensis) than they do to modern humans, including small and large-bodied people. The proportions between the upper arm (humerus) and upper leg (femur) also appear more similar to those in Australopithecus and Homo habilis than those of modern humans.
“ Homo floresiernsis” are thought to have become so small through the process of island dwarfism, which cause some large species to grow smaller because food sources are limited and there is no threat from predators and causes some smaller animals to become larger because they lack competitors. On Flores scientists have also found the remains stegodons — extinct elephant ancestors which were about the size of a cow, or about a tenth of the size of an Asian elephant — and Flores giant rats, which are about five times the size of brown rats. Komodo dragons are found on islands near Flores. The stegodons are thought to have arrived by swimming. The rats and Komodo dragons perhaps hitched rides on flotsam.
Homo floresiensis had a small body and brain, but it feet were exceptionally long, and they were flat. After completing the first detailed analysis of the hominid’s foot bones, scientists, who reported their findings in a May 2009 issue of Nature, said the feet show that the Hobbits belonged to a primitive population distinct from modern humans John Noble Wilford wrote in the New York Times: “The examination of lower limbs and especially an almost complete left foot and parts of the right, the researchers reported, shows that the species walked upright, like other known hominids. There were five toes, as in other primates, but the big toe was stubby, more like a chimp’s. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, May 6, 2009 /=]
“Stranger still was the size of the feet — more than seven and a half inches long, out of proportion to its short lower limbs. The imbalance evoked the physiology of some African apes, but it has never before been seen in hominids. And then there were those flat feet. Humans sometimes have fallen arches and flat feet, but scientists noted that this was no human foot. The navicular bone, which helps form the arch in the modern foot, was especially primitive, more akin to one in great apes. Without a strong arch — that is, flat-footed — the hominid would have lacked the springlike action needed for efficient running. It could walk, but not run like humans. /=\
“Weighing the new evidence, the research team led by William L. Jungers, a paleoanthropologist at the Stony Brook Medical Center on Long Island, concluded that “the foot of H. floresiensis exhibits a broad array of primitive features that are not seen in modern humans of any body size.” The team contended that it was improbable that all of these traits from head to toe — including small brain and primitive shoulders and wrists, as previously reported — “were simply a consequence of ‘island dwarfing.’ ” Dr. Jungers and his colleagues raised the possibility that the ancestor of the species was not Homo erectus, as had been the original assumption. H. erectus is known as the earliest hominid to leave Africa and make its way across Asia. At a symposium two weeks ago, several scientists edged toward the view that the hobbits emerged from another, more primitive hominid ancestor.” /=\
“In a commentary accompanying the journal report, Daniel E. Lieberman, a paleoanthropologist at Harvard who was not a member of the team, noted that the initial skepticism over the hominid as a distinct species was understandable. “All in all, many scientists (myself included) have sat on the fence, waiting for more evidence about the nature and form of H. floresiensis,” Dr. Lieberman wrote. “And now we have some.” Dr. Lieberman, who specializes in hominid locomotion studies, said the primitive foot provided a “tantalizing model” for a nonmodern hominid that “evolved for effective walking before selection for endurance running occurred in human evolution.” William Harcourt-Smith, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History and co-author of the Nature paper, said in an interview, “We have been very careful to consider variables within a species and possible pathologies, but this hobbit foot is another strong piece of evidence that they were nothing like us.” /=\
Kate Wong wrote in Scientific American, ““Artifacts left behind by the hobbits support the claim that H. floresiensis is a very primitive hominin. Early reports on the initial discovery focused on the few stone tools found in the hobbit levels at Liang Bua that were surprisingly sophisticated for a such a small-brained creature—an observation that skeptics highlighted to support their contention that the hobbits were modern humans, not a new species. But subsequent analyses led by Mark W. Moore of the University of New England in Australia and Adam R. Brumm of the University of Cambridge have revealed the hobbit toolkit to be overall quite basic and in line with the implements produced by other small-brained hominins. The advanced appearance of a handful of the hobbit tools at Liang Bua, Moore and Brumm concluded, was produced by chance, which is not unexpected considering that the hobbits manufactured thousands of implements. [Source: Kate Wong, Scientific American, November 2009 -]
“To make their tools, the hobbits removed large flakes from rocks outside the cave and then struck smaller flakes off the large flakes inside the cave, employing the same simple stone-working techniques favored by humans at another site on Flores 50 kilometers east of Liang Bua called Mata Menge 880,000 years ago—long before modern humans showed up on the island. (The identity of the Mata Menge toolmakers is unknown, because no human remains have turned up there yet, but they conceivably could be the ancestors of the diminutive residents of Liang Bua.) Furthermore, the Liang Bua and Mata Menge tools bear a striking resemblance to artifacts from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania that date to between 1.2 million and 1.9 million years ago and were probably manufactured by H. habilis. -
Lifestyle of the Hobbits in Indonesia
Flores “Homo floresiernsis” is thought to have hunted and cooked giant rats and stegodons. The only predators they faces were Komodo dragons, which may have been hunted as well. Fireplaces, charred bones and thousands of stone tools have been found. The presence of spear points with cut marks if offered as evidence of hunting. Hunting 800-pound stegodons would have required some form of group hunting or incredible bravery for a 55-pound creature. Giant rats are still hunted by local people on Flores today.
A large volcanic eruption that occurred on Flores 11,000 years may have wiped out “ Homo floresiernsis”. They and modern humans lived at the same time but there is no evidence that they met. Maybe some survived. Local islanders tell folk stories about hairy, pint-size people with flat foreheads called “Ebu Gogo” (“Grandmother who eats everything”) that stole their crops and moonshine and were “so greedy they even ate the plates.” Locals say the creatures were last seen about 300 years ago. The cave where “ floresiernsis” was found is regarded as burial places of sinners who drowned in the biblical Great Flood.
The “Homo floresiernsis” brain was 380 cubic centimeters in size, compared to 1,350 cubic centimeters for a modern human and 900 cubic centimeters for homo erectus. CT scans of the skull reveal that even though it was the size of a chimpanzees brain it had features that are human-like and distinctive. There is evidence the Hobbit brain was wrinkled and had expanded temporal lobes like those of modern humans. To build boats and carry out group hunts, it has been reasoned that they possessed language.
Liang Bua, the Cave Where the Hobbits Were Found
Liang Bua (14 kilometers from Ruteng) is a cave where archaeologists discovered fossils of the Flores hobbit, or homo floresiensis, a hitherto unknown prehistoric hominid species that lived 95,000 to 12,000 years ago and whose remains were found in the caves of Liang Bua. Situated in a limestone hill in Manggarai District, the cave has long been familiar to the local community due its huge size (50 meters long, 40 meters wide, and 25 meters tall). Because of its large size it was once used as a religious worship place and school.
Many stone flake tools, dated between 800,000 and 900,000 years ago and ascribed to Homo Erectus, have been found on the island of Flores. The anthropologist Matt Tocheri wrote: “Flores is one of many Wallacean islands, which lie east of Wallace's Line and west of Lydekker's Line. Wallacean islands are interesting because they have rarely, if ever, been connected via land bridges to either the Asian continent to the west or the Greater Australian continent to the east. This longstanding separation from the surrounding continents has severely limited the ability of animal species to disperse either into or away from the Wallacean islands. Thus, on Flores there were only a small number of mammal and reptile species during the entire Pleistocene. These included komodo dragons and other smaller monitor lizards, crocodiles, several species of Stegodon (an extinct close relative of modern elephants), giant tortoise, and several kinds of small, medium, and large-bodied rats. [Source:Matt Tocheri, humanorigins.si.edu]
“In 2001, an Indonesian-Australian research team began excavations at a large limestone cave located in west central Flores. This cave, known as Liang Bua (which means "cool cave"), was first excavated by Father Verhoeven in 1965. Professor Raden Soejono, the leading archeologist in Indonesia, heard about Liang Bua from Verhoeven and conducted six different excavations there from the late 1970s until 1989. All of this early work at Liang Bua only explored deposits that occurred within the first three meters of the cave floor. These deposits are dated to within the last 10,000 years and contain considerable archeological and faunal evidence of modern human use of the cave, as well as skeletal remains of modern humans. However, in 2001 the new goals were to excavate deeper into the cave's stratigraphy to explore if modern or pre-modern humans were using Liang Bua prior to 10,000 years ago. In September of 2003, they got their answer.
Discovery of Homo floresiensis
The first discovery, in 2003, was the 18,000-year-old bones of a woman whose skull was less than one-third the size of our own. As of 2008, the team had recovered bones from as many as nine such people, all about a meter, the most recent of whom lived about 12,000 years ago. Matt Tocheri wrote: “ On Saturday, September 6, 2003, Indonesian archeologist Wahyu Saptomo was overseeing the excavation of Sector VII at Liang Bua. Benyamin Tarus, one of the locally hired workers, was excavating the 2 x 2 meter square when all of a sudden the top of a skull began to reveal itself. Six meters beneath the surface of the cave, Wahyu immediately joined Benyamin and the two of them slowly and carefully removed some more sediment from around the top of the skull. Wahyu then asked Indonesian faunal expert Rokus Due Awe to inspect the excavated portion of the skull. Rokus told Wahyu that the skull definitely belonged to a hominin and most likely that of a small child given the size of its braincase. Two days later, the team returned to the site and Thomas Sutikna, the Indonesian archeologist in charge of the excavations, joined Wahyu at the bottom of the square. After several days, enough of the cranium and mandible had been exposed for Rokus to realize that this was no small child; instead, all of its teeth were permanent meaning that this was a fully grown adult. A few weeks later, the team had recovered the rest of this hominin's partial skeleton, the likes of which had never been discovered before. Today, this specimen is referred to as LB1 (Liang Bua 1), and is the holotype specimen for the species Homo floresiensis. [Source: Matt Tocheri, humanorigins.si.edu]
“At the time of the discovery, the Liang Bua Research Team included specialists in archeology, geochronology, and faunal identification, but there was no physical anthropologist. Dr. Mike Morwood, the co-leader of the project, invited his colleague at the University of New England in Australia, Dr. Peter Brown, to lead the description and analysis of the skeletal remains. Dr. Brown is an expert on cranial, mandibular, and dental anatomy of early and modern humans and he agreed to apply his expertise to the study of the new bones from Liang Bua. This important scientific work resulted in the first descriptions of these skeletal remains in the journal Nature on October 28, 2004. This work also gave the scientific name, Homo floresiensis, to the hominin species that is represented by the skeletal material from the Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua.
“Just before the two Nature articles on Homo floresiensis were published in 2004, the Liang Bua Research Team uncovered additional skeletal material. This included the arm bones of LB1, and several bones of another individual, LB6, including the mandible and other bones of the arm. Drs. Morwood and Brown, and other Indonesian and Australian members of the Liang Bua Research Team, described and analyzed these new skeletal remains of Homo floresiensis and again published their results in Nature on October 13, 2005.
Implications of the Hobbits in Indonesia
The discovery of “Homo floresiernsis” had a profound impact on the study of ancient man and showed that the evolution of man was far more complex than previously thought and may have produced a whole menagerie of human creatures that resulted in dead ends. Before the discovery it was thought that Neanderthals were the only hominins that existed at the same time as modern humans. Another surprising thing is that “ floresiernsis” fossils don’t resemble 1.6-million-year-old “Homo erectus” fossils found in Indonesia. They more closely resembles homo erectus 1.7-million-year-old fossils found in Dmanisi, Georgia. Some dismiss this interpretation of the fossils because it would represents a case of reverse-evolution, something regarded as impossible or at least unlikely.
“ Homo floresiernsis” either had to an extremely good swimmer or a boat builder or a descendant of a good swimmer or boat builder to cross the strait between Flores and Komodo, the nearest large island, and the straits between Komodo, Sumbawa, Lombok and Bali, which were never connected by land bridges during the ice ages. The most likely explanation is that “ floresiernsis” built boats, a surprisingly achievement for a creature with a brain smaller than a chimpanzee. One implication of this is that maybe a large brain isn’t as important as it has been made out to be.
Other Small Hominin Species
Fossils from another small hominin were found in Kenya in 2004. A skull fragment from a hominin dated to 900,000 years ago was found on a volcano named Mount Olorgesailie and thought to have been another dead end branch that evolved from homo erectus. A number of stone tools were found at the site along with bones of many animal that could have been hunted as prey. Otherwise it is difficult to make too many inferences from the finding because only a jawbone was found.
In 2003, scientists found the bones of 25 unusually small people in two caves in Palau, a group of islands about 1,600 kilometers north of Flores, The people were about four feet tall and appeared to have lived 1,400 to 3,000 years ago. They shared characteristics with the Flores people but had large almost normal-size modern brain cases.
H-floresiensis versus Cretan-microcephalic
In a report released on the online journal PloS One, Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who studied the Palau bones, said they indicated a brain size “possibly at the very low end or below that typically observed in modern, small-bodied humans.” Berger then hypothesized that “reduction in the size of the of the face and chin, large dental size and other feature noted here may in some cases be correlated of extreme body size reduction in H. Sapiens” and this supports “at least the possibility of H. sapiens perhaps some individuals expressing congenital abnormalities.”
Additionally, there a plenty of examples of small people that live today such as pygmies in Africa, Negritos in Southeast Asia and small tree-dwelling people in New Guinea.
Critics of Hobbits Species Conclusion and Other Short People in the Pacific
Morwood and Peter Brown, another paleoanthropologist at the University of New England, are the two principal scientists advancing the theory that “Homo floresiernsis” is separate species.
Critics of the inferences drawn from the “hobbit” bones have argued that belonged dwarfed or malformed Homo sapien and it was unwise to draw too many inferences from only one complete skeleton . Teuku Jacob, a respected Indonesian paleoanthropologist, believes the bones belong to modern humans deformed by microcephaly, a condition in which the brain fails to grow to its normal size, and has scanned the island of Flores for extremely short people that perhaps descended from them.
In February 2008, Peter Obendfort of RMIT University of Melbourne said he found evidence of an enlarged pituitary gland on an image of the Flores skull, suggesting the individual may have suffered from cretinism, which can cause stunted growth and a small brain.
Morwood and Brown stand by their separate species thesis and say they have a lot of support from early human experts, including Tim D. White from Berkeley and Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum in London. Some scientists dispute the microcephaly explanation, saying that structure of Flores skull was not consistent with that of microcephaly sufferers. Dean Falk, a researcher at Florida State University, pronounced the creature’s brain unique by examining a complete model of the brain and by concluding the cerebellum looked healthy (those of microcephaly sufferers have an odd-protruding lobe) and large frontal lobes (associated with higher thought) and temporal lobes (associated with hearing, memory and emotion).
Bernard Wood, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University who has carefully studied the Flores bones, told the New York Times that the Flores skeleton and other fragments have “all sorts of intriguing morphology” that distinguishes them from modern humans. “All of these exotic explanations being proposed require the suspension of any fragment of common sense. They are seeking a much more exotic explanation than the one for a distinct species that looks like an earlier Homo.”
Homo floresiensis cave
Were "Hobbits" Human?
Guy Gugliotta wrote in Smithsonian Magazine, “Some critics say that it would have been impossible for a hominin with a brain the size of an orange to make the sophisticated tools found at Ling Bua Cave—let alone hunt with them—and that they must have been crafted by modern humans. But supporters of the separate species hypothesis modeled the shape and structure of the Hobbit brain and say it could have made the tools. [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian Magazine, July 2008 ==]
“When Smithsonian anthropologist Matthew Tocheri and other researchers analyzed the Hobbitt wrist, they found a primitive, wedge-shaped trapezoid bone common to great apes and early hominins but not to Neanderthals and modern humans. That fits a theory that Hobbits are less closely related to Homo sapiens than to Homo erectus—the human ancestor that is thought to have died out 100,000 years ago. Morwood has found crude Homo erectus-type stone tools on Flores that may be 840,000 years old. The skeptics retort that disease is a more likely explanation for the wrist bones. A study this year speculated that the Flores people could have suffered from hypothyroidism, a form of cretinism found relatively frequently in modern Indonesia that, the researchers say, could also produce deformed, primitive-appearing wrists. == “Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian's Human Origins Program, who once doubted that the Hobbits were a separate species, says he's changed his mind: "Flores was this wing in the building of human evolution that we didn't know about. There is no reason that 800,000 years of experimentation could not evolve a small but advanced brain." ==
Hobbit’s Primitive Body
In 2009, Kate Wong wrote in Scientific American, “New analyses are causing even the proponents to rethink important aspects of the original interpretation of the discovery. The recent findings are also forcing paleoanthropologists to reconsider established views of such watershed moments in human evolution as the initial migration out of Africa by hominins (the group that includes all the creatures in the human line since it branched away from chimps). [Source: Kate Wong, Scientific American, November 2009 -]
“Perhaps the most startling realization to emerge from the latest studies is how very primitive LB1’s body is in many respects. (To date, excavators have recovered the bones of an estimated 14 individuals from the site, but LB1 remains the most complete specimen by far.) From the outset, the specimen has invited comparisons to the 3.2-million-year-old Lucy—the best-known representative of a human ancestor called Australopithecus afarensis—because they were about the same height and had similarly small brains. But it turns out LB1 has much more than size in common with Lucy and other pre-erectus hominins. And a number of her features are downright apelike. -
“A particularly striking example of the bizarre morphology of the hobbits surfaced this past May 2009, when researchers led by William L. Jungers of Stony Brook University published their analysis of LB1’s foot. The foot has a few modern features—for instance, the big toe is aligned with the other toes, as opposed to splaying out to the side as it does in apes and australopithecines. But by and large, it is old-fashioned. Measuring around 20 centimeters in length, LB1’s foot is 70 percent as long as her short thighbone, a ratio unheard of for a member of the human family. The foot of a modern human, in contrast, is on average 55 percent as long as the femur. The closest match to LB1 in this regard, aside from, perhaps, the large-footed hobbits of Tolkien’s imagination, is a bonobo. Furthermore, LB1’s big toe is short, her other toes are long and slightly curved, and her foot lacks a proper arch—all primitive traits. -
“A foot like this one has never been seen before in the human fossil record,” Jungers declared in a statement released to the press. It would not have made running easy. Characteristics of the pelvis, leg and foot make clear that the hobbits walked upright. But with their short legs and relatively long feet, they would have had to use a high-stepping gait to avoid dragging their toes on the ground. Thus, although they could probably sprint short distances—say, to avoid becoming dinner for one of the Komodo dragons that patrolled Flores—they would not have won any marathons. -
“If the foot were the only part of the hobbit to exhibit such primitive traits, scientists might have an easier time upholding the idea that H. floresiensis is a dwarfed descendant of H. erectus and just chalking the foot morphology up to an evolutionary reversal that occurred as a consequence of dwarfing. But the fact is that archaic features are found throughout the entire skeleton of LB1. A bone in the wrist called the trapezoid, which in our own species is shaped like a boot, is instead shaped like a pyramid, as it is in apes; the clavicle is short and quite curved, in contrast to the longer, straighter clavicle that occurs in hominins of modern body form; the pelvis is basin-shaped, as in australopithecines, rather than funnel-shaped, as in H. erectus and other later Homo species. The list goes on. -
“Indeed, from the neck down LB1 looks more like Lucy and the other australopithecines than Homo. But then there is the complicated matter of her skull. Although it encased a grapefruit-size brain measuring just 417 cubic centimeters—a volume within the range of chimpanzees and australopithecines—other cranial features, such as the narrow nose and prominent brow arches over each eye socket, mark LB1 as a member of our genus, Homo. -
Hobbits Died Out 50,000 Years Ago, Earlier than Thought
A study published in 2016 showed that Homo floresiensis died out at least 50,000 years ago, earlier than thought. Nicola Davis wrote in The Guardian: “The revelation came as the team delved deeper into the nature of the sediments at Liang Bua. They discovered that the layers in which the fossils were found had been eroded to the north of the cave, producing a slope where younger material built up. [Source: Nicola Davis, The Guardian, March 30, 2016]
“The original studies of the remains and the deposits around them suggested the creatures could have lived as recently as 12,000 years ago. But new research now overturns that idea, proposing instead that our long-footed cousins disappeared at least 50,000 years ago.
“The idea that Homo floresiensis was alive and kicking until 12,000 years ago arose from the team’s previous work. Carbon dating of charcoal remains in the cave suggested a range of dates between 19,000 and 12,000 years ago, while other evidence from the site pushed the dates further back - a tooth from a dwarf elephant-like creature, Stegodon florensis insularis, found with the remains was dated to around 74,000 years ago. When all the evidence was analysed, scientists concluded that Homo floresiensis disappeared between 95,000 and 12,000 years ago. Since modern humans arrived in Australia around 50,000 years ago, the dating suggested that Homo floresiensis could have been rubbing its hairy shoulders with our ancestors for up to 40,000 years. |=|
“But the new research paints a rather different picture. Writing in the journal Nature, the international team of scientists have revealed that new excavations and analysis at Liang Bua date the Homo floresiensis remains to between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago, meaning that the species disappeared much earlier than previously thought. “They were unknowingly excavating a mixture of much older and much younger sediment,” said Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. |=|
“As a result, the charcoal samples previously used to date the fossils were in fact deposited long after the diminutive creatures died. By analysing uneroded layers of the cave floor where Homo floresiensis was found, together with the remains themselves, the scientists discovered that the remains are far older than previously thought. Other evidence supported their conclusions. In the same deposits in which Homo floresiensis was found, the team recovered thousands of stone tools, said Tocheri, which have been dated to between 190,000 and 50,000 years old.” |=|
Were Humans Involved in Hobbits Dying Out?
Maybe modern humans were to blame for Homo floresiensis dying out at least 50,000 years ago. “The new understanding of the dates make a lot more coherent sense in terms of the evidence of what we know about modern human dispersal,” says Matthew Tocheri, an author of the study from Lakehead University, Ontario. Over the past 100,000 years, extinction events followed modern humans wherever they went, he said. “It is not always the case the humans are the sole factor,” he added. “But they are often in the right place at the right time to at least be a part of the reason.” [Source: Nicola Davis, The Guardian, March 30, 2016]
“Nicola Davis wrote in The Guardian: “While the new results overturn the notion that modern humans and Homo floresiensis might have lived side-by-side for around 40,000 years, the study raises an intriguing possibility. “If modern humans had reached Australia by 50,000 years ago, they didn’t jump over the islands - they would have been in south-east Asia a little bit earlier than that,” says Tocheri. That, he says, raises the question of whether the arrival of modern humans had something to do with the demise of their hobbit-like relations. “The timing of that, with modern humans potentially at least moving through the area, is quite suspicious,” he said. |=|
“Stringer agrees. “That population, we think, has lasted there potentially for more than a million years. So what changes? What changes is modern humans coming to the area, we believe, about 50,000 years ago,” he said. “It is probably economic competition - they are not necessarily conducting warfare or hunting floresiensis,” Stringer added. “But even hunting the same animals, eating the same plant resources, wanting to live in the best environments, that will remove the resources that the floresiensis needed.” |=|
“Whether or not modern humans turn out to be the guilty culprits of the hobbits’ demise, Tocheri believes the remains are a poignant reminder of our place in the world. “Even if they went extinct on their own they are an important reminder of how much diversity, morphologically, behaviourally and genetically, our human family has lost in the past several hundred thousand years,” he said. “We are the only ones remaining.” |=|
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, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018