New "Hobbit" Human Bones Add to Evidence, Oddity

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
October 12, 2005

The "hobbits" are real. That's the conclusion of scientists who announce the discovery of the remains of more of the tiny prehistoric humans nicknamed for the diminutive stars of the Lord of the Rings saga. (See pictures of the hobbit humans.)

The newfound humans—formally known as Homo floresiensis—were first discovered in October 2004 on the Indonesian island of Flores. (See "Hobbit-Like Human Ancestor Found in Asia.") Ever since, scientists have debated whether the "hobbits" in fact constitute a new human species.

The recent finds in Liang Bua cave—a jaw and other bones from what are said to be nine individuals—should settle the matter, according to the paleontologists behind the discoveries.

"Now we can say very confidently that the new evidence confirms this as a new, tiny, unique species of human," said Mike Morwood, an archaeologist from the University of New England in Australia who helped make the new discovery. Morwood also co-led the team that found the first known hobbit remains in 2004.

Using the remains at hand, Morwood and his team were able to estimate the height of five of the nine individuals. All five were under 3.25 feet (1 meter) tall, according to the researchers' new report. One apparent five-year-old was less than 20 inches (50 centimeters) tall when he or she died.

The remains cover a broad time period, from about 95,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Controversial Bones

The tiny bones have stirred controversy since they were first revealed and could alter understanding of early human evolution.

If H. floresiensis is in fact a new species, it's one that existed until 12,000 years ago—more recently than extinct early humans are thought to have been around. The period is about the same time that humans were developing agriculture and well after Neanderthals had vanished.

"My take is that this is not a home run yet, because they haven't really figured out what this is," Harvard anthropologist Daniel Lieberman said. "But there's good evidence that supports their hypothesis nicely."

"There's more than one individual, so they can refute the hypothesis that this is just some kind of freak. Also, the data suggest that [the remains are from] a fairly long time span, so that makes it tough to say that this is [due to some sort of disease]," Lieberman said.

Some anthropologists have suggested that the hobbits could be modern-human dwarfs with a condition called microcephaly, a condition of abnormal smallness of the head.

Continued on Next Page >>


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