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.




Discovery

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 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 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.




Anatomy


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.


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 Brains Were Small but Smart National Geographic - March 2005
The recently discovered "hobbit" fossils do in fact represent a new human species, according to a new study of a hobbit braincase. What's more, the little humans seem to have been more intelligent than expected, given their extremely small brains - a finding that may completely change how scientists view human evolution.




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.




Signifance

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.

Homo Floresiensis   Wikipedia




In the News ...





  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.




'Hobbit' Was an Iodine-Deficient Human, Not Another Species, New Study Suggests   Science Daily - September 29, 2010
The remains, allegedly as recent as 15,000 years, were discovered in 2003 in the Liang Bua caves on the Indonesian island of Flores by archaeologists seeking evidence of the first human migration from Asia to Australia.




"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.




"Hobbit" Island Tools Predate Modern Humans, Study Says National Geographic - May 31, 2006
Long before the dawn of modern humans, relatively sophisticated tools were being made on the Indonesian island of Flores, a new study says. Scientists who believe the creatures to be a separate human species have dubbed them Homo floresiensis. Their Lord of the Rings nickname comes courtesy of their height - about 3.3 feet, or 1 meter. Discovered in 2004, the hobbits survived until about 12,000 years ago, and stone implements have been found alongside remains that date from about that time. But new analysis of strikingly similar tools found at a nearby site called Mata Menge has dated the Mata Menge implements to 800,000 years ago, according to the study.





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