A new study has determined that a group of “hobbit” people who lived 15,000 years ago were not the same species as modern humans. Skulls and other bones fragments were first discovered on the island of Flores in 2003, starting an embattled debate regarding the origins of the strange discoveries. Now that debate has been settled. Well, kind of.
The so-called “hobbits” earned their current name because of their size. They were very small compared to humans; an adult hobbit stood just 3 feet tall and weighed around 55 pounds.
Many believed that these pre-humans were descendants of the Homo erectus, which died out about 70,000 years ago, and were dead-end branch on the evolutionary path that produced modern humans. Instead of continuing to evolve, they simply died out.
The other belief was that these were in fact ancestors of the modern human, and that their small size was caused by a genetic disorder or generational shrinkage due to a poor diet.
Recently, scientists in France used a new approach to prove one side correct. Using high-tech tools to re-examine the layers of the ‘hobbit’ skull of Liang Bua 1 (nicknamed LB1), the researchers secured high-resolution images recently generated in Japan to compute maps of bone thickness variation.
The results, said lead author Antoine Balzeau, were unambiguous: “There were no characteristics from our species” – that is, Homo sapiens.
We now know that these people were not simple ancient ancestors of modern humans, but a different species entirely. Unfortunately, they were lost when they died off completely on Flores Island. The world would be a different place had they managed to survive. Interestingly, the island was also home to a miniature race of extinct, elephant-like creatures called Stegodon.
Despite the discovery, a mystery still remains. Scientists were able to determine these skulls were not from humans, but were not able to prove that they were a scaled-down version of the Homo erectus, which arrived on the neighbouring island of Java some million years ago. Which makes for an intriguing 3rd possibility – that they may have been from an entirely different evolutionary line.