Hobbit Fossils Found: Debate Rages Over 3-Foot Island Dwellers

Hobbits did walk on the Earth, but they are not what people expect. Scientists have completed studies on fossils found in 2014, and there’s already a debate growing about the 3-foot tall relatives to modern humans.

The hobbits, also known as Homo Floresiensis, were about three feet, six inches tall. They had large teeth, no chins, large feet, and receding foreheads according to the Smithsonian. Their brains were also smaller than humans’, similar to a Chimpanzee, but they used stone tools and perhaps even had fire.

Some scientists believe that the hobbits are essentially Homo Sapiens according to USA Today, but who became smaller over many generations on the secluded island of Flores near Indonesia. The latest fossil discoveries put a dent in that theory; however, showing that the hobbits lived on Flores about 700,000 years ago. Homo Sapiens have only been around for roughly 200,000 years.

Instead, scientists are proposing that the Homo Floresiensis are descendants of Homo Erectus, which traveled from Africa to Asia many hundreds of thousands of years ago. One thing is consistent, and slightly troubling, about the two theories – island dwarfism.

The hobbits arrived on Flores and then they began to shrink to accommodate the island environment, scientists believe. The phenomenon has been observed in other fossils (the tiny hobbits may have once hunted tiny elephants), but never in a hominid species.

Gerrit van den Bergh of Australia’s University of Wollongong told reporters that once the hobbits arrived on the island their height “was reduced to two-thirds of ancestral body size, and brain volume shrank to half the size.” People originally had a difficult time accepting that a human-like species could also succumb to island dwarfism according to George Washington University anthropologist Aida Gomez-Robles.

“For some reason,when we saw that the same thing can happen to us, to humans, this is when people started to think, ‘Oh, my God, this is not possible.’”

They didn’t live in well-maintained underground residences either, instead their fossils were originally discovered in a cave.

Lian Bua, Flores, Indonesia – the cave where scientists first discovered the fossils of the Hobbit people.
[Photo by Achmad Ibrahim/AP Images][/caption]

The first hobbits were found on Flores in Lian Bua (shown above) in 2003. Those fossils dated back 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, which is why the theory that they were Homo Sapiens rose to prominence. The more recent fossils were found in 2014 in grasslands at a site called Mata Menge. Those hobbits lived about 700,000 years ago.

The differences between the cave hobbits and the Mata Menge kind have scientists still debating the true origins of island dwellers, and some still believe that those found in the cave are descendants of Homo Sapiens. Researchers claim the fossils found at the two sites have “minimal overlap.” The debate won’t be settled unless researchers can find more fossils to piece together the evolutionary history of the Homo Floresiensis, according to Adam Brumm of Australia’s Griffith University and NPR.

“We want to know what the very, very first hominids to set foot on the island looked like. The search is ongoing.”

Whatever their origins, once the hobbits got to Flores, their intelligence seems to have stopped evolving.

“This technology, whatever it was used for, essentially stayed the same for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years on this island, which is intriguing to say the least.”

The hobbits on Flores died out about 50,000 years ago according to the fossils found there. The full results of the new fossil research will appear in the publication Nature.

[Photo by Richard Lewis/AP Images]