National Geographic‘s Adam Hoffman reported on the latest about Homo floresiensis. New archeological finds have confirmed that the specimens found so far represent a species, not isolated dwarfs, one with a long evolutionary history on its Indonesian island.
For the past decade, a fossil human relative about the size of a toddler has loomed large in the story of our evolutionary history. This mysterious creature—found on the Indonesian island of Flores—has sparked a heated debate about its origins, including questions over its classification as a unique species.
But now, a scattering of teeth and bone may at last unlock the mystery of the “hobbits,” also known as Homo floresiensis.
The 700,000-year-old human remains are the first found outside Liang Bua cave, the site on Flores that yielded the original hobbit fossils. The much older samples show intriguing similarities to H. floresiensis, including their small size, and so provide the best evidence yet of a potential hobbit ancestor.
“Since the hobbit was found, there have been two major hypotheses concerning its ancestry,” says Gerritt van den Bergh, an archaeologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia and a contributor to the work.
According to one theory, H. floresiensis is a dwarfed form of Homo erectus, an ancient human relative that lived in East Asia and parts of Africa until about 143,000 years ago. But other researchers think the hobbits evolved from even earlier, smaller-bodied hominins such as Homo habilis or Australopithecus.
“These new findings suggest that Homo floresiensis is indeed a dwarfed form of Homo erectus from Java, a small group of which must have gotten marooned on Flores and evolved in isolation,” van den Bergh says.