Homo floresiensis: The real ‘Hobbits’ who may have accompanied humans 12,000 years ago

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Back in 2003, researchers gave anthropological wings to Tolkien’s much loved creation – the Hobbits. To that end, a group of Australian and Indonesian scientists found remains of a tiny hominin (3.5 ft or 1.1 m in height) that has since being christened as the ‘Hobbit of Flores’, named after the island of Flores where it was found. In the later years, the archaeologists have been able to identify and locate more of such specimens of ‘little people’ – with the actual number pertaining to nine such individuals. These discoveries inspired some anthropologists to such a degree that they even defined the ‘hobbits’ under a new (and distinct) species called Homo floresiensis. According to these experts, the species in turn falls under the taxonomic tribe of Hominini, which suggests that they were more closely related to humans than to chimpanzees, and yet were distinct in a physical manner. More importantly from the sociological perspective, the Homo floresiensis probably walked on our earth alongside our ancestors Homo sapiens for 75,000 years, and possibly as recently as 12,000 years ago.

*given the lack of better term for Homo floresiensis – a species identification scope that is still debated, we will use the moniker of ‘hobbit’ in the article.

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Now of course, debates have raged since then, regarding the specification of these tiny people into a separate species. There are opponents to this mainstream theory – with one research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2015 claiming that the hobbits of Flores were just ‘human’ specimens with Down’s syndrome. But many researchers from around the world were dissatisfied with this explanation, mainly because there were no conforming images that complemented such a hypothesis. Moreover, that research in question didn’t go through a peer review process – and thus other experts also raised doubts about the validity of the conjecturing process. One Professor William Jungers, from the State University of New York, also talked about the biological flaw that was overlooked by the research –

They say Homo floresiensis is similar to a modern person with Down’s syndrome, but no one with that condition has a tiny cranium only 400cc in capacity as floresiensis does, nor do they have thick cranial bones as it does.

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Interestingly, even from orthopedic perspective, experts have studied evidences that support the identification of the hobbits of Flores to a different species. One of these studies done in 2007, pertained to the analysis of the carpal (wrist) bones – and the results showed that the hobbits has similar bone structure to that of an early hominin such as Australopithecus, as opposed to the bone structure of modern humans. Another study completed in 2009 assessed the comparative body measurements of the hobbits and humans, and found that H. floresiensis and Homo sapiens are separate species. Additionally, a comprehensive 3D analysis led by Dean Falk, a paleoneurologist at Florida State University, also ruled out the possibility of microcephaly – a condition where the head circumference is smaller than normal.

And finally, in January of 2016, archaeologists have discovered yet another evidence that suggests that the original Hobbit of Flores had a relative living on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Located inside the so-named Liang Bua cave, the remains were found alongside fossils of other animals, including giant and possibly predatory storks that stood over 6 ft in height. This certainly hints at the possibility that the birds hunted down the tiny hobbits, but no evidence of such an activity has been found till now.

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