Tolkien’s “hobbits” (‘homo floresienes” – in the scientific community) were a real species. Two new studies support the view that a very small (3 foot or so tall) species of humans exisited eons ago. Anthropologists and paleontologist researchers have been having a rabid debate over the fossilized skeletal remains of very small species of humans, which were found on an isolated Indonesian island of Flores in 2003.
The anthro-paleo team of scientists that discovered the small skeletons popularly known as ‘Man of Flores’ and dubbed by the media as “hobbits”, claim they found a new species of human. It is their theory the ‘hobbits’ were descendants of prehistoric hominids, we know as Homo erectus. The little human-like beings existed on the remote island of Flores with the Komodo Dragon and Pygmy Elephant, in a world that seemed to parallel something from a sci-fi novel or movie.
The evidence from the find indicated these ‘hobbits’ were fairly advanced for their era, 18,000 years ago. Stone tools and weapons for hunting were found along with the remains of animals and butchering artifacts. They stood only three feet tall and had small brains and deformed hands , as indicated by their skeleton remains. The evidence unearthed points to the fact that they ceased to be around 8,000 years ago.
Why were these human so small has been the flashpoint of heated scientific discussion, since their remains were found?
The discovery group of scientists believe the explanation is due to thousands of years living in a niche biome; the “species became smaller because environmental conditions favored smaller body size”. The dwarfing of mammals on islands is process seen worldwide, because islands provide a limited food supply, with species competing for survival within same niche they must become very specialized and smaller.
The other side of the debate believes the answer to physical size and a brain size smaller than a chimpanze is the result of a genetic disorder known as “dwarf cretinism”, which is caused by deficient thyroids.One group of Australian scientists believe the so called ‘hobbits’ are Homo sapiens, that had a thyroid disorder combined with other environmental factors that had stunted their growth. They believe the skeletons reveal “dwarf cretinism” afflicted the population (such as an iodine deficiency-Peter Obdendorf of RMIT University). It was presented that dwarf cretins only grow to about 3 1/2 feet in height and have some of the same characteristics found in the Flores skeletal remains. This school of skeptics does not believe in an evolutionary divergence or new species of human.
The debate has raged and raged…with one group presenting findings and another group disputing them over and over.
In September of 2007, the raging debate seemed to dim as new research ( in-depth bone analysis)on the wrist bones of the ‘hobbit’ indicated it was a new species. The ‘hobbit’ bones have been verified by the Smithsonian Institute Human Origins Program, as being very different from apes Neanderthals or modern humans.
Recently the discover of small human fossils in the Pacific on the island nation of Palau has recharged the ‘hobbit’ debate and mystery. In “Public Library of Science ONE” it is reported, the fossils found on Palau have been verified as being a human ancestor to modern man. These 3 foot skeletons have many of the Homo floresiensis characteristics, with the exception of the brain size. These little people had proportional normal-sized brain cavities. The new discovery may point back toward the theory that the Flores ‘hobbits’ were merely “deformed pygmies”.
Now, several new studies reported in the British Journal – “Nature” add new light and evidence to the issue. William Jungers of Stony Brook University in New York and his team of investigative scientists have been analysing the hobbit’s foot. Their findings provide interesting data to support the “hobbits” being a separate species from the Homo erectus species, because of the extremely different foot and toe bone structure.
The uncovering of more “hobbit” type remains in eurasia over the past few years is expected to shed new light on the deeply divided issue of ancestry and the Homo erectus connection.
Yes, the creatures called “hobbits” were real. It is up to science to prove if they were a separate species or a branch of Homo sapiens.