The Hobbit

No not the movie. I’m talking about the species of humans found on a remote island in Indonesia. The scientific name for them is homo floresiensis. Their remains are believed to be 95,000-17,000 years old. Why does this species have the nickname of “The Hobbit”? How do they know it is a different species instead of the result of a genetic disease?

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In 2003, a research team found an almost complete skeleton of a female inside the Liang Bua cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia. This was one of the most significant discoveries of the 21st century. The woman had small features and an unusually small brain size. They also found teeth and bones from 12 others inside the cave all having the same characteristics as the female. This led them to conclude it was a whole other species of human. They estimate the size of the individuals to be about three and a half feet and their weight to be around 65-75 pounds. These estimates were based on the female individual found. Some other characteristic of this species include large teeth, shrugged shoulders, lack of chins, receding foreheads, large feet, and brains a third the size of ours. One of the questions surrounding this species is which species of human was their immediate ancestor. One theory for their small stature is that it was a form of evolutionary dwarfism, that they evolved this way because of the isolation of living on the island as well as the small amount of resources available to them. Support for this can be found in the pygmy elephant species also on the island, which are now extinct.

Even though homo floresiesnsis had small brains, they developed stone tools and hunted to survive. The oldest tools found on the island are 800,000 and it is a mystery how humans arrived on the island because the nearest one is nine miles away. The stone tools found in the cave resembled those found elsewhere on the island. Archaeological evidence showed that they hunted the small elephants living on the island as many of their bones are found where they resided. They also hunted large rodents, fended off predators, and may have used fire. Who said small brains don’t get you anywhere! Trying to discover the past of humans is a daunting task. There are so many questions surrounding each species and how they came to develop their characteristics. The Hobbit species is a unique and mysterious fork in the road of human evolution.

http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-floresiensis

3 thoughts on “The Hobbit

  1. I’m so glad that somebody did a post on these little guys. It is pretty crazy to think that it wasn’t just a pre-historic case of dwarfism, and there was actually an entire species of mini humans, or “hobbits”. Our reading in chapter 4 had a small section on Homo floresiensis, which intrigued me, but did not go into a whole lot of detail on it. It did, however, mention that they hunted an elephant-like creature called the stegadon, which I’m guessing is the same thing as the pygmy elephant species that you mentioned. Maybe the island’s environment and resources lead to many animal species being smaller than their relatives; a sort of real life munchkin land like in The Wizard of Oz. Though I doubt any of the Homo floresiensis bound together to make anything like the Lollipop Guild, it seems like they were just as resourceful and adaptive as any species of the Homo genus living at the time. I think it’s a damn shame that this species of miniature people didn’t last to modern day; they would most likely be very well known around the world and be a great topic of discussion and study. Also, small people would be a dynamite resource when you think about them working in Hollywood, they could have made millions playing special roles in movies. A few in particular come to my mind, the Lord of the Rings trilogy would have made great use in employing actual hobbits to play their own roles. Plus, they’d probably play the role better from being in character at all times. It would also help to fulfill one of my dreams, to shake the hand of Bilbo Baggins…

  2. When I think about the evolution of the human species I normally just think about my lineage of people. We came from Africa and then ended up somewhere in Europe and then finally made it to America. I tend to think more with the western side of things and not realize that what happened here didnt necessarily happen over there. It is very interesting for me to think that there was a form of “hobbit” out there in the world. It gives me a greater appreciation and understanding for who I am now.
    It amazes me that such a small human was capable of taking down an elephant. Granted they were pygmy elephants but that is still impressive. The only people I know who are 3 to 4 feet tall and weighed around 65 pounds are children. I definitely do not know any children who would have the strength to take down an elephant. The seclusion of these humans was probably what allowed them to survive for as long as they did. With fewer species around them the easier it would be for them to rise to the top.
    It would have been interesting to see what these homo floresiensis would have been like in todays world if they would have survived. The stories their people would have been able to tell would have been very intersesting. Most likely the white man would have tried to colonize them because they were smaller and not white. It would have been very easy to conquer these people.
    If they were still around though I believe Peter Jackson would have used them in all the Lord of the Rings movies and the Hobbit. Definitely would have made it more realistic.

  3. These are very interesting little homonids. They kind of reminded me of pygmies, except after further research, pygmies are in fact just super (duper) short people, less than 5 feet tall on average.
    What would be interesting to know is that although homo floresiensis could make use of tools despite the size of their little pea brains, how much less sophisticated were they than homo species with “normal” sized brains? What is the relationship between the size of someone’s brain and his intelligence, ability to form groups/societies, and use sophisticated tools to perform tasks? Is it linear?
    It’s also intersting to see how malnurishment can have such a drastic effet on a species physiology over a long period of time. It would seem that the only some physical aspects would be altered by a lack of nutrients: muscular strucutre, skelatal structure; aspects of one’s body that only performs physically. But to have your skull and brain shrink in size over thousands of years? This opens a whole new range of questions:
    As the article posted above mentioned both a receding forehead and decreased brain size, a natural question arises: what happened first? did malnurishment prevent brain growth, which in turn allowed the skull to begin to cave in and create a receding forehead? Or was it the opposite? Did malnurishment lead to the body creating a smaller bone structure in the skull which encroached on brain space, sort of squeezing the brain into a smaller cavity, thereby reducing its size? Answering such a question could perhaps shed light on our own genetic structure and its behavior when put under environmental stress.

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