Flores fossil discovery provides clues to ‘hobbit’ ancestors

Jun 11, 2016

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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3 comments on “Flores fossil discovery provides clues to ‘hobbit’ ancestors

  • @OP – 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.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36463668

    Scientists have discovered the 700,000-year-old ancestor of the tiny primitive human known as “the Hobbit”.

    Its fossils indicate that the normal-sized primitive humans who first set foot on the Indonesian island of Flores shrank “rapidly” to become Hobbit-sized.

    The remains are of at least one adult and two children, who are all just as small as their descendents.

    A paper in the journal Nature details the latest findings.

    The Hobbit’s discovery in a cave on Flores created a sensation 12 years ago. Just a metre in height (hence the affectionate nickname), it was initially thought they could have been living as recently as 12,000 years ago.

    Subsequent analysis has shown they actually existed slightly further back in time, between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago – not that this lessened the fascination with the diminutive species more properly called Homo floresiensis.

    And now comes new research from some of the scientists involved in the original discovery that reveals insights on the Hobbit’s lineage.

    The team presents much older fossils, dating back 700,000 years, unearthed at a site named Mata Menge.

    These remains consist of a piece of lower jawbone and several teeth. They are remarkably similar to those of the Hobbit find in 2004 and are thought to belong to the ancestors of floresiensis.

    There are also stone tools at the same site which are much older still, suggesting ancient human-like creatures lived on Flores a million years ago. One theory is that these people were another normal-sized species we now refer to as Homo erectus, which was known to live on the island of Java, about 500 km west of Flores.

    According to Dr Yousuke Kaifu, from Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science, the discovery of the tiny 700,000 year old hobbit ancestor suggests that erectus might have shrunk within the space of just 300,000 years, which is a remarkably short period in evolutionary terms.

    “What is truly unexpected is that the size of the finds indicates that Homo floresiensis had already obtained its small size by at least 700,000 years ago.”

    Their history is now being tracked much further back in time.



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  • Has western Science studied ancient Indian Epics “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata” which most Indian Hindus consider “history” rather than fictional “literature”? They describe humans interacting with weird characters some of which now seem to be possibly different co-existing human/humanoid species. Some other characters exist such as half-human-half-lion and such semi-animal / semi-monstrous beings. Of course there are interactions with Gods and ‘incarnations’ of Gods. A lot of events described of course involve un-rational / un-‘physics’ kind of magic and miracles. The epics describe stories across cycles of ‘Yugas’: Eras of millions or billions of years at the end of which there is complete destruction, followed by next Yuga starting a new beginning. I very much think all of it is fiction & literature, philosophical/ethical/moral intended stories, not history. But, will be worth researching by scientific authorities. The literature might be highly dramatised versions of real history (art to attract, fascinate people and reach more of them).



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  • I see some very important bird fossils from an earlier period have been discovered.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36651471

    Two wings from birds that lived alongside the dinosaurs have been found preserved in amber.

    The “spectacular” finds from Myanmar are from baby birds that got trapped in the sticky sap of a tropical forest 99 million years ago.

    Exquisite detail has been preserved in the feathers, including traces of colour in spots and stripes.

    The wings had sharp little claws, allowing the juvenile birds to clamber about in the trees.

    The tiny fossils, which are between two and three centimetres long, could shed further light on the evolution of birds from their dinosaur ancestors.

    The specimens, from well-known amber deposits in north-east Myanmar (also known as Burma), are described in the journal Nature Communications.

    Co-author Prof Mike Benton, from the University of Bristol, said: “The individual feathers show every filament and whisker, whether they are flight feathers or down feathers, and there are even traces of colour – spots and stripes.”

    The hand anatomy shows the wings come from enantiornithine birds, which comprised a major bird grouping in the Cretaceous Period. However, the enantiornithines died out at the same time as the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.

    Dr Steve Brusatte, a vertebrate palaeontologist at Edinburgh University, described the fossils as “spectacular”.

    “These are showcase specimens and some of the most surprising fossils I’ve seen in a long time. We’ve known for a few decades that many dinosaurs had feathers, but most of our fossils are impressions of feathers on crushed limestone slabs.

    “Three dimensional preservation in amber provides a whole new perspective and these fossils make it clear that very primitive birds living alongside the dinosaurs had wings and feather arrangements very similar to today’s birds.”



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