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Flores Hobbits Were Sort of Like Humans, Sort of Like Chimps, Sort of Like Tolkien’s Fantasy Beings

Archaeologists are slowly bringing “the Hobbit Human” to light as new bones turn up

A female H. floresiensis recreation from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. (dctim1)

Archaeologists are slowly bringing “the Hobbit Human” to light as new bones turn up and add pieces to the puzzle of what this ancient Homo species looked like. The latest findings, three wrist bones, were unearthed in Flores, Indonesia, and provide further evidence that H. floresiensis did indeed exist, refuting claims by other researchers that hobbits were just human pygmies.

“The tiny people from Flores were not simply diseased modern humans,” Caley Orr, lead author of the paper describing the finding in the Journal of Human Evolution, told Discovery News.

Science News provides some background:

Hobbits died out around 17,000 years ago, after having descended from a member of the human evolutionary family that must have reached Indonesia by 1 million years ago, the researchers propose.

Hobbits’ wrists limited their ability to make and use stone tools, the scientists contend. Basic stone cutting implements excavated on Flores date to 800,000 years ago.

The hobbits stood about 3’6” tall—within the range of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional hobbits, said to stand between 2 to 4 feet. They also had long, broad feet like Tolkien’s characters.

Like modern humans, the Flores hobbits walked on two legs and had small canine teeth. They lived a cave man lifestyle, and researchers have found ancient remnants of stone tools, animal bones and fire in caves on the island.

Unlike modern humans, however, hobbit arms were longer than their legs, Discovery points out, giving them a more ape-like structure. Their inferred small brain size puts them on par with a chimpanzees for IQ.

The Hobbit’s wrist looked like that of early human relatives, such as Australopithecus, but the key ancestral candidate now is Homo erectus, “Upright Man.”

It is possible that a population of H. erectus became stranded on the Indonesian island and dwarfed there over time. Orr said that “sometimes happens to larger animals that adapt to small island environments.”

A problem, however, is that H. erectus is somewhat more modern looking than the Hobbit, so researchers are still seeking more clues.

The researchers hope to tease out how the Flores hobbits managed to make stone tools with their relatively primitive hands and wrists. “H. floresiensis solved the morphological and manipulative demands of tool-making and tool-use in a different way than Neanderthals and ourselves,” Orr told Discovery News.

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