Hobbit - Homo Floresiensis

Homo floresiensis ("Man of Flores") is the proposed name for a possible species in the genus Homo, remarkable for its small body, small brain, and survival until relatively recent times.

It is thought to have been contemporaneous with modern humans (Homo sapiens) on the Indonesian island of Flores. One sub-fossil skeleton, dated at 18,000 years old, is largely complete. It was discovered in deposits in Liang Bua Cave on Flores in 2003.

Parts of eight other individuals, all diminutive, have been recovered as well as similarly small stone tools from horizons ranging from 94,000 to 13,000 years ago. The first of these fossils was unearthed in 2003; the publication date of the original description is October 2004; and confirmation of species status was expected to appear in March 2005, following publication of details of the brain of Flores Man.

However, primatologist Robert Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago published an article in Science theorizing that the original specimen does not represent a new species, but is a modern Homo sapiens with microcephaly.

Flores has been described (in the journal Nature) as "a kind of Lost World", where archaic animals, elsewhere long extinct, had evolved into giant and dwarf forms through allopatric speciation, due to its location East of the Wallace Line.

The island had dwarf elephants (a species of Stegodon, a prehistoric elephant) and giant monitor lizards akin to the Komodo dragon, as well as H. floresiensis, which can be considered a species of diminutive human.The discoverers have called members of the diminutive species "hobbits", after J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional race of roughly the same height.

In the mythology of the island, there were common references to small furry people called Ebu Gogo even into the 19th century. Read more

In the News ...

Origins of Indonesian hobbits finally revealed   PhysOrg - April 21, 2017

he most comprehensive study on the bones of Homo floresiensis, a species of tiny human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, has found that they most likely evolved from an ancestor in Africa and not from Homo erectus as has been widely believed. The study by The Australian National University (ANU) found Homo floresiensis, dubbed "the hobbits" due to their small stature, were most likely a sister species of Homo habilis - one of the earliest known species of human found in Africa 1.75 million years ago.

Likely ancestor of mystery 'hobbit' found   PhysOrg - June 8, 2016
Half-sized humans who lived 700,000 years ago were almost certainly the ancestors of enigmatic "hobbits" whose fossils were found on the same Indonesian isle in 2013, scientists stunned by their own discovery. Two studies, published in Nature, fill a huge gap in our understanding of these diminutive people, whose tortuous evolutionary saga hit a dead-end some 50,000 years ago. A modest haul of teeth and bones from an adult and two children has bolstered the theory that the hobbits, known to scientists as Homo floresiensis, arrived on Flores island as a different, larger species of hominin, or early man, probably about a million years ago. And then, something very strange happened. These upright, tool-wielding humans shrank, generation after generation, until they were barely half their original weight and height. The process, called "island dwarfism," was well known in animals, with some species shrinking as much as six fold in adapting to an environment with fewer resources.

New research counters claim that the 'Hobbit' had Down syndrome   PhysOrg - June 8, 2016
Analysis of a wealth of new data contradicts an earlier claim that LB1, an ~80,000 year old fossil skeleton from the Indonesian island of Flores, had Down syndrome, and further confirms its status as a fossil human species, Homo floresiensis.

Age of the 'Hobbit' species revised   BBC - March 31, 2016

The diminutive human species nicknamed "the Hobbit" is older than previously recognized, scientists now say. The discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003 caused a sensation because it seemed the creature could have been alive in the quite recent past. But a new analysis indicates the little hominin probably went extinct at least 50,000 years ago - not the 12,000 years ago initially thought to be the case.

Mystery 'hobbits' not humans like us: study   PhysOrg - February 15, 2016

Diminutive humans that died out on an Indonesian island some 15,000 years ago were not Homo sapiens but a different species, according to a study published Monday that dives into a fierce anthropological debate. Controversy has raged ever since as to whether they are an unknown branch of early humans or specimens of modern man deformed by disease. The new study, based on an analysis of the skull bones, shows once and for all that the pint-sized people were not Homo sapiens.

  'The Hobbit' turns 10: Find that rewrote human history   BBC - October 20, 2014

The claim is made by Prof Richard Roberts who was among those to have published details of the "Hobbit". The early human was thought to have lived as recently as 20,000 years ago and so walked the Earth at the same time as our species. The Hobbit's discovery confirmed the view that the Earth was once populated by many species of human.

  Study backs 'hobbit' island dwarfism theory   BBC - April 17, 2013

A diminutive species of human whose remains were found on the Indonesian island of Flores could have shrunk as a result of island dwarfism as it adapted to its environment. A study of the remains of the creature, nicknamed the "hobbit", shows that it is possible for it to have been a dwarf version of an early human species. The hobbit co-existed with our species until 12,000 years ago.

The Real 'Hobbit' Had Larger Brain Than Thought   Live Science - April 17, 2013
The brain of the extinct "hobbit" was bigger than often thought, researchers say. These findings add to evidence that the hobbit was a unique species of humans after all, not a deformed modern human, scientists added. The 18,000-year-old fossils of the extinct type of human officially known as Homo floresiensis were first discovered on the remote Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. Its squat, 3-foot-tall (1 meter) build led to the hobbit nickname.

'Hobbit' Was an Iodine-Deficient Human, Not Another Species, New Study Suggests   Science Daily - September 29, 2010
A new paper is set to re-ignite debate over the origins of so-called Homo floresiensis -- the 'hobbit' that some scientists have claimed as a new species of human. Researchers have reconfirmed their original finding on the skull that Homo floresiensis in fact bears the hallmarks of humans -- Homo sapiens -- affected by hypothyroid cretinism.

"Hobbits" Had Million-Year History on Island?   National Geographic - March 17, 2010

Newfound stone tools suggest the evolutionary history of the "hobbits" on the Indonesian island of Flores stretches back a million years, a new study says - 200,000 years longer than previously thought. The hobbit mystery was sparked by the 2004 discovery of bones on Flores that belonged to a three-foot-tall (one-meter-tall), 55-pound (25-kilogram) female with a grapefruit-size brain. The tiny, hobbit-like creature - controversially dubbed a new human species, Homo floresiensis - persisted on the remote island until about 18,000 years ago, even as "modern" humans spread around the world, experts say. Found in million-year-old volcanic sediments, the newly discovered tools are "simple sharp-edged flakes" like those found at nearby sites on Flores - sites dated to later time periods but also associated with hobbits and their ancestors.

'Hobbit' island's deeper history   BBC - March 18, 2010
Long before a 'hobbit' species of human lived on Indonesia's Flores island, other human-like creatures colonized the area. That much was clear. But scientists have now been able to date their presence to at least one million years ago - some 120,000 years earlier than previously recognized. The group says the finds bring a new dimension to our understanding of the history of Flores.

  Hippo's island life helps explain dwarf hobbit   PhysOrg - May 7, 2009

Ancient Madagascan hippos have shed light on the origins of the small brain of the 1-metre-tall human, known as the hobbit. The team suggests that the hobbit became a dwarf after its Homo erectus ancestor became isolated on the large island of Madagascar many years ago.


The first (and so far only) Specimens were discovered by a joint Australian-Indonesian team of paleoanthropologists and archaeologists looking on Flores for evidence of the original human migration of H. sapiens from Asia into Australia. They were not expecting to find a new species, and were quite surprised at the recovery of the remains of at least seven individuals of non-H. sapiens, from 38,000 to 13,000 years old, from the Liang Bua limestone cave on Flores. An arm bone, provisionally assigned to H. floresiensis, is about 74,000 years old. Also widely present in this cave are sophisticated stone implements of a size considered appropriate to the 1 m tall human: these are at horizons from 95,000 to 13,000 years and are associated with juvenile Stegodon, presumably the prey of Flores Man.

The specimens are not fossilized, but were described in a Nature news article as having "the consistency of wet blotting paper" (once exposed, the bones had to be left to dry before they could be dug up). Researchers hope to find preserved mitochondrial DNA to compare with samples from similarly unfossilized specimens of Homo neanderthalensis and H. sapiens. The likelihood of there being preserved DNA is low, as DNA degrades rapidly in warm tropical environments - sometimes in as little as a few dozen years. Also, contamination from the surrounding environment seems highly possible given the moist environment in which the specimens were found.

"Hobbit" Discovered: Tiny Human Ancestor Found in Asia National Geographic - October 27, 2004

Scientists have found skeletons of a hobbit-like species of human that grew no larger than a three-year-old modern child (See pictures). The tiny humans, who had skulls about the size of grapefruits, lived with pygmy elephants and Komodo dragons on a remote island in Indonesia 18,000 years ago. Australian and Indonesian researchers discovered bones of the miniature humans in a cave on Flores, an island east of Bali and midway between Asia and Australia.

'Hobbit' joins human family tree BBC - October 27, 2004

Scientists have discovered a new and tiny species of human that lived in Indonesia at the same time our own ancestors were colonizing the world. The 1m-tall (3ft) species - dubbed the "Hobbit" - lived on Flores Island until at least 12,000 years ago. Australian archaeologists unearthed the bones while digging at a site called Liang Bua, one of numerous limestone caves on Flores. Wear on the teeth and growth lines on the skull confirm it was an adult. Features of the pelvis identify it as female and a leg bone confirms that it walked upright like we do.


Small Bodies

Homo erectus, thought to be the immediate ancestor of H. floresiensis, was almost the same size as modern humans. In the limited food environment on Flores, however, H. erectus is thought to have undergone strong island dwarfing, a form of speciation also seen on Flores in several species, including a dwarf Stegodon (a group of proboscideans that was widespread throughout Asia during the Quaternary), as well as being observed on other small islands. However, the "island dwarfing" theory has been subjected to some criticism from.

Despite the size difference, the specimens seem otherwise to resemble in their features H. erectus, known to be living in Southeast Asia at times coinciding with earlier finds of H. floresiensis. These observed similarities form the basis for the establishment of the suggested phylogenetic relationship. Despite a controversial reported finding by the same team of alleged material evidence, stone tools, of a H. erectus occupation 840,000 years ago, actual remains of H. erectus itself have not been found on Flores, much less transitional forms.

The type specimen for the species is a fairly complete skeleton and near-complete skull of a 30-year-old female, nicknamed Little Lady of Flores or Flo, about 1 m (3 ft 3 in) in height. Not only is this drastically shorter than H. erectus, it is even somewhat smaller than the three million years older ancestor australopithecines, not previously thought to have expanded beyond Africa. This tends to qualify H. floresiensis as the most "extreme" member of the extended human family. They are certainly the shortest and smallest discovered thus far.

Homo floresiensis is also rather tiny compared to the modern human height and size of all peoples today. The estimated height of adult H. floresiensis is considerably shorter than the average adult height of even the physically smallest populations of modern humans, such as the African Pygmies (< 1.5 m, or 4 ft 11 in), Twa, Semang (1.37 m, or 4 ft 6 in for adult women), or Andamanese (1.37 m, or 4 ft 6 in for adult women). Mass is generally considered more biophysically significant than a one-dimensional measure of length, and by that measure, due to effects of scaling, differences are even greater. The type specimen of H. floresiensis has been estimated as perhaps about 25 kg (55 lb).

Homo floresiensis had relatively long arms, perhaps allowing this small hominid to climb to safety in the trees when needed.

Recent Survival

The other remarkable aspect of the find is that this species is thought to have survived on Flores until at least as recently as 12,000 years ago. This makes it the longest-lasting non-modern human, surviving long past the Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) which became extinct about 29,000 years ago. Homo floresiensis certainly coexisted for a long time with modern humans, who arrived in the region 35,000-55,000 years ago, but it is unknown how they may have interacted.

Local geology suggests that a volcanic eruption on Flores was responsible for the demise of H. floresiensis in the part of the island under study at approximately 12,000 years ago, along with other local fauna, including the dwarf elephant Stegodon.

The discoverers suspect, however, that this species may have survived longer in other parts of Flores to become the source of the Ebu Gogo stories told among the local people. The Ebu Gogo are said to have been small, hairy, language-poor cave dwellers on the scale of H. floresiensis. Widely believed to be present at the time of the arrival of the first Portuguese ships during the 16th century, these strange creatures were apparently last spotted as recently as the late 19th century. There is also Tonga Island folklore that "small people" were living on 'Ata Island (the southernmost island of the group) at the time of the arrival of the Polynesians.

Similarly, on the island of Sumatra, there are reports of a one-metre tall humanoid, the Orang Pendek, which a number of professional scholars take seriously. Both footprints and hairs have been recovered. Scholars working on the Flores Man have noted that the Orang Pendek may also be surviving Flores men still living on Sumatra.


The discovery is widely considered the most important of its kind in recent history, and came as a surprise to the anthropological community. The new species challenges many of the ideas of the discipline.

Homo floresiensis is so different in form from other members of genus Homo that it forces the recognition of a new, undreamt-of variability in the genus, and provides evidence against linear evolution.No doubt, this discovery provides more fuel for the perennial debate over the out-of-Africa or multiregional models of speciation of modern humans (despite H. floresiensis not itself being an ancestor of modern humans). Already, further arguments have been made on either side.

The discoverers of H. floresiensis fully expect to find the remains of other, equally divergent Homo species on other isolated islands of Southeast Asia, and think it possible, if not quite "likely", that some lost Homo species could be found still living in some unexplored corner of jungle.

Henry Gee, a senior editor of the journal Nature, has agreed, saying, "Of course it could explain all kinds of legends of the little people. They are almost certainly extinct, but it is possible that there are creatures like this around today. Large mammals are still being found. I don't think the likelihood of finding a new species of human alive is any less than finding a new species of antelope, and that has happened".

Gee has also written that "The discovery that Homo floresiensis survived until so very recently, in geological terms, makes it more likely that stories of other mythical, human-like creatures such as Yetis are founded on grains of truth. Now, cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold".

An alternative suggestion is that Homo floresiensis was actually a rainforest-adapted type of modern Homo sapiens, like Pygmies and Negritos, only of a more extreme type.

A New Species

Whether the specimens represent a new species is a controversial issue within the scientific community.In 2005, a computer-generated model of the skull of Homo floresiensis provided further support that the controversial specimens from Indonesia do indeed represent a new species. The study of the creature's brainpan showed that it was neither a pygmy nor an individual with a malformed skull and brain, as some critics contend.

This lends support to the discovery team's assertion that the metre-tall specimen belongs to a species distinct from Homo erectus.In the May 19, 2006, issue of the journal Science, however, Robert D. Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago and some co-authors argued that the fossil of Homo floresiensis appears to be that of a modern human with microencephaly, a disorder resulting in a small brain and other defects.

Martin explained that the brain is far too small to be a separate dwarf species; if it were, he wrote, the 400-cubic-centimeter brain would indicate a creature only one foot in height, which would be one-third the size of the discovered skeleton. Read more ...