Flores Man

or more formally, Homo floresiensis

The discovery of Homo floresiensis raises hopes for yeti hunters and, says Henry Gee, poses thorny questions about the uniqueness of Homo sapiens.

If another species of humans existed so recently, perhaps stories of other human-like creatures might be founded on grains of truth?
Henry Gee: Flores, God and Cryptozoology, 27 Oct 2004 http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041025/full/041025-2.html

Flores is an island in Indonesia. For years, archaeologists have been excavating a cave on the island, where human bones have been found. More recently, as the dig has gone deeper, new bones have been found. These bones, while human-looking, belong to people who were very small (around 3 foot 3) with a tiny brain (“the size of a grapefruit”). This in itself wouldn’t have caused all the controversy that has erupted — a number of hominid species are known.

The extraordinary finding was the date of these bones: they spanned an 80,000 year period, and the most recent was only 12,000 years old!

This would mean that they co-existed with modern humans on the island for at least 40,000 years, although as yet there’s no evidence of contact between them.

There is evidence that these little people (nicknamed “hobbits”) made sophisticated stone tools, hunted pygmy elephants, giant rats and Komodo dragons. They used fire to cook and almost certainly had a spoken language.

Their extinction may have been brought about by a volcanic eruption.

Stone tools found elsewhere on the island suggest that ancestors of Flores Man actually came to the island over 800,000 years ago. The evolutionary differences suggest that they lived in isolation much longer. It’s been suggested, on the basis of analysis of the skull, that their brains may have adapted to become more efficient as they shrank.

Several hominid species have been found in Indonesia: Java Man, Solo Man and Mojokerto Child. These all lived between 50,000 and 1.8 million years ago.

Although the phenomenon of animals shrinking in size in the absence of big predators has long been known (it's known as island dwarfism), it has (of course) always been assumed that this process didn't apply to humans.

For more about Flores Man, see:

http://www.nature.com/news/specials/flores/index.html

http://www.time.com/time/asia/magazine/article/0,13673,501050606-1066965,00.html

Hobbit not a "diseased" human

Some scientists have insisted that the "hobbit" was a normal human who suffered from micrecephaly. However comparison of the skull with those of microcephalic humans does not support this. Although distinctly different and up to two-thirds smaller than a modern human brain, the “hobbit” skull shows signs of having some features of modern humans, such as an expanded temporal lobe and a fissure near the back of the brain known as the lunate sulcus. The frontal lobes were also unusually convoluted and distinct from anything in other early hominids. All of this provides evidence that Homo floresiensis is indeed a separate species, although it's expected that controversy will dog the issue for some time.

Moreover, latest findings bring the total of individuals represented by fossil discoveries to nine, and a second jaw confirms a significant difference to Homo sapiens — no chin ( the chin is a unique characteristic of Homo sapiens).

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa003&articleID=00080FAC-32C9-134C-B2C983414B7F0000

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/7078973/

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-03/wuso-fl022805.php

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4308751.stm