By Ian Sample
More than a decade ago, researchers in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Flores unearthed the bones of an ancient race of tiny humans. Now, in sandstone laid down by a stream 700,000 years ago, they have found what appear to be the creatures’ ancestors.
The new fossils are not extensive. A partial lower jaw and six teeth, belonging to at least one adult and two children, are all researchers have. But the importance of the remains outweighs their number. They suggest that dwarf humans roamed the island – hunting pygmy elephants and fending off komodo dragons – for more than half a million years.
The first bones belonging to the miniature humans were dug from the floor of the Liang Bua cave on Flores in 2004. The 50,000-year-old fossils pointed to a now-extinct group of humans that stood only a metre tall. Named Homo floresiensis, but swiftly nicknamed the “hobbits”, they made simple stone tools and had desperately small brains, one third the size of ours.
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