Indonesian ‘hobbits’ were not humans, new research finds

The unusual species known as the “hobbits” due to their small stature and unusually long and flat feet were not related to modern humans and were actually an entirely different species, according to new research published in the latest edition of the Journal of Human Evolution.

The new analysis, led by Antoine Balzeau of the French Natural History Museum, conducted an analysis of skull bones discovered on the island of Flores in 2003 and determined that the species known as Homo floresiensis could not have been tiny Homo sapiens, as some have suggested.

However, it is unlikely that the new research will put an end to the debate between the two different camps: one arguing that the short, small-brained hobbits originally descended from Homo erectus and had become smaller over time; and another claiming that they were modern humans suffering from some kind of genetic disorder, according to the AFP.

Nonetheless, Balzeau and Philippe Charlier, a palaeopathologist at Paris-Descartes University, used high-tech equipment to closely examine the layers of the Liang Bua 1 (LB1) hobbit skull, the most intact of the nine known Homo floresiensis, the news agency said. The duo’s analysis found “no characteristics” associated with Homo sapiens in the LB1 skull.

Species could still be related to Homo erectus, however

The skeletal remains of the 15,000-year-old hobbits were first discovered 13 years ago on Flores Island, Indonesia, and as the Daily Mail explained, they earned their “hobbit” nicknames because of their resemblance to the creatures featured in JRR Tolkien’s well-known fantasy novels. They stood an average of three feet tall and weighed a mere 55 pounds.

High-resolution scans of the fossil, recently generated in Japan, were used to look at the bone thickness variation in the various layers of the skull, Balzeau told the AFP. He and Charlier did find evidence of some minor genetic disorders, but nothing suggesting that the species suffered from severe conditions such as microcephaly or dwarf cretinism.

Their research was unable to rule out the possibility that the hobbit was a smaller version of Homo erectus, which had arrived on the nearby island of Java several million years ago, nor could they discount the notion that Homo floresiensis was its own unique species. As Balzeau told the AFP, at this point they cannot conclusively say “one way or the other.”

In similar research conducted last November, scientists from Japan, Australia and Indonesia completed the first comprehensive analysis of the teeth of Homo floresiensis, also known as “Flores Man,” and found dental evidence that the creatures are a separate species, and not modern humans suffering from microcephaly or another type of genetic condition.


Feature Image: A model of a female Homo floresiensis. (Credit: John Gurche, National Museum of Natural History, CC BY-SA)