New findings in Indonesia, on bones dating back 700,000 years, may prove that short Homo floresiensis lived far longer than first thought.
Homo floresiensis (otherwise called ‘hobbit’) was the name of a very short species of humans whose remains were discovered in Indonesia, on an island called Flores, several years ago.
A tiny skull, pelvis, jaw and then other bones were dated as being up to 100,000 years old and pointed to a separate, three-foot-tall lineage of humans.
Since then, bits and pieces of information have come out about the hobbits, however, two fascinating papers published recently have revealed more significant details.
First up, earlier findings that the bones belonging to one hobbit showed signs of Down syndrome have been challenged after a tranche of new tests were run on a skeleton called LB1– better still, the tests lend more credence to this being a distinct subspecies.
Its small brain, low cranial vault shape, absence of a chin, smaller body size and limb proportions all point to a pre-Homo sapiens ancestry.
The paper, led by Karen Baab from Midwestern University in Arizona, concluded that: “The skeletal evidence overwhelmingly contradicts a diagnosis of Down syndrome.
“Rather, our study is yet further evidence that Homo floresiensis was a distinct species with a fascinating, if somewhat nebulous, evolutionary history.”
In a separate study, further skeletal remains – as well as almost 150 tools – were discovered in the area, with these dating back 700,000 years.
The skeletal remains are not complete, so they can’t be fully confirmed as that of the Homo floresiensis lineage.
“All the fossils are indisputably hominin and they appear to be remarkably similar to those of Homo floresiensis,” said Dr Gert van den Bergh, of the University of Wollongong in Australia.
Among the haul, van den Bergh and his team found milk teeth from children, with the “morphology of the fossil teeth” suggesting a “dwarfed descendant” of early Homo erectus that “somehow got marooned” on Flores.
The dates suggest that the species potentially lived as far back as 1m years ago, staying on the island until perhaps as recent as 60,000 years ago. That means there is a decent chance they interacted with larger humans.
This is “an open question,” according to the paper, which suggests modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through south-east Asia, such as Denisovans, as potential encounters.
Hobbit home via Kichigin/Shutterstock