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
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:
Flores Island “Hobbits” confirmed as ancient hominid species
February 24, 2016
A recent study of the Homo floresiensis skull specimen Liang Bua (LB1) has concluded that the cranial features are not supportive of its attribution to Homo sapiens, but rather carried traits much more characteristic of ancient hominins like Homo erectus.
Its findings also support the suggestion the fossils do not exhibit pathological features.
Some scholars have suggested the ancient H.floresiensis could be connected to the Ebu Gogo myths which were prevalent on Flores Island. The Ebu Gogo were described as fast runners and able walkers who were about 1.5 m tall. They had flat and wide noses, large mouths, broad faces and hairy bodies, and were said to have murmured in their own language, and been able to repeat what was said to them in a parrot-like manner.
August 16, 2014
Claim 'hobbit' was modern human with Down's syndrome disputed
The most recent claim from a small group of scientists who have persistently disputed the claim that the bones discovered 12 years ago on Indonesia's Flores Island represent a unique species has been vehemently denounced.
The claim that the Flores “hobbit” was simply a human with Down's syndrome has enraged fossil experts who note that their paper contains no images of skeletons of Down's syndrome individuals, which would show clearly that they look nothing like the Flores specimen.
August 4, 2014
Claim that ‘Hobbit’ skull points to Down syndrome, not new species
Researchers analyzing a 15,000-year-old skull and thigh bone attributed to Homo floresiensis, the tiny hominids found on Indonesia's Flores Island, have suggested that it belonged to adevelopmentally abnormal human and contains important features most consistent with a diagnosis of Down syndrome.
They claim that the original figures for cranial volume and stature are underestimates, and that with their revision of a cranial volume of about 430 milliliters (vs about 400), it falls in the range predicted for a modern human with Down syndrome from the same geographic region. The original estimate of 3.5 feet for the creature's height was based on extrapolation combining the short thigh bone with a formula derived from an African pygmy population, but humans with Down syndrome also have diagnostically short thigh bones, and when corrected statistically for normal growth, a height of about 4 feet would be produced.
July 25th, 2013
Hobbit face reconstructed
Analysis of the one complete skull attributed to Homo floresiensis has produced a face that looks reasonably similar to modern humans.
July 11, 2013
Hobbit skull likely from distinct Homo species
Detailed analysis of a small skull found on Indonesia's Flores Island in 2003 finds it unlikely that the skull (called Liang Bua 1 or LB1) belonged to a modern human with a disorder, such as microcephaly, that resulted in an abnormally small brain and skull.
Comparison of the shape of the LB1 cranium to many fossil humans, as well as a large sample of modern human crania suffering from microcephaly and other pathological conditions, has found that the LB1 cranium shows greater affinities to the fossil human sample than it does to pathological modern humans. Although some superficial similarities were found between fossil, LB1, and pathological modern human crania, additional features linked LB1 exclusively with fossil Homo.
April 16th, 2013
Insular dwarfing explains Flores man
The most detailed computerised scan of the Homo floresiensis skull has put the brain size at 426 cubic centimetres, somewhat higher than earlier estimates of around 400 cc, but still only a third of a H. sapiens brain, which is around 1,300 cc.
The researchers suggest that a population of Homo erectus, isolated on their island, went through thousands of years of diminution, scaling down in size to match availability of food on the island. This phenomenon, known as insular dwarfing, is well known among biologists, and is seen in the remains of a pygmy elephant found in the hobbits' cave. Computer simulation from 20 worldwide populations of modern humans also show that the scaling down of H. floresiensis' brain, in line with its tiny body, is entirely possible.
8 August 2011
Flores Man a human with microcephaly?
Once again, the idea of Homo floresiensis as a separate species is engulfed in controversy, with a new study coming out in favor of the idea that the LB1 skull represents a human with microcephaly.
The study compared the cranial spaces of 21 human children suffering from microcephaly and 118 unaffected children, to produce two specific measurements that could be used to discriminate between microcephalics and unaffected children.
Further comparisons between endocasts of skulls of 10 microcephalic humans, 79 unaffected humans, 17 Homo erectus, 4 Australopithecus, and the H. floresiensis fossil, revealed that the H. floresiensis cranium overlapped most with the measurements collected from microcephalics and Australopithecus.
However, others argue that these measurements are completely irrelevant to the question of whether LB1 is a new species, which was determined on the basis of the size of the brain relative to the body.
18 March 2010
Million year old tools found on Flores Island
Excavations on Flores Island, home to the 'hobbits', Homo floresiensis, have previously uncovered tools dated to 880,000 years ago. Now, 48 stone flakes have been uncovered not far from that site. They have been dated to just over a million years ago. The hand tools were probably used to butcher meat among other tasks.
Foot supports Flores Man as separate species
6 May 2009
Analysis has revealed that Homo floresiensis had feet that combined human and very primitive features. For example, like humans, the big toe was aligned with the others and the joints make it possible to extend the toes as the body's full weight falls on the foot. But it is far longer than aits modern human equivalent, with a very small big toe, long curved lateral toes, and a weight-bearing structure that resembles that of a chimpanzee.
The combination is more similar to feet found in human ancestors that roamed Africa more than three million years ago than they are to the feet of more modern hominin species, such as Homo erectus, supporting the view that they branched from the human line at an earlier date, perhaps from Homo habilis.
Another study that looked at fossils of several species of ancient hippos, from the island of Madagascar and the mainland, also supports the theory that isolation on an island that produce a dwarfing effect, with pygmy hippos in Madagascar having exceptionally small brains for their size.
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).