Tiny one metre tall ancestors of 'Hobbits' have been found in Indonesia

Reconstruction of Homo floresiensis. Image: Atelier Elisabeth Daynes

The fossilised remains of tiny one metre tall ancient hominins, which appear to be ancestors of Homo floresiensis, the species of human affectionately dubbed the “Hobbit”, have been found in Indonesia.

Dr Gert van den Bergh, from the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Archaeological Science, led the team which excavated a lower right jaw fragment and six teeth from at least one adult and two children from layers of sedimentary rock on the Indonesian island of Flores.

The findings, published in two separate papers in the journal Nature, detail the anatomical study of the remains and shows the finds pre-dates Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua by more than half a million years.

“Remarkably, these fossils, which include two milk teeth from children, are at least 700,000 year old,” says Dr van den Bergh.

“This find has important implications for our understanding of early human dispersal and evolution in the region and quashes once and for all any doubters that believe Homo floresiensis was merely a sick modern human (Homo sapiens).”

Facial approximation of the Hobbit. Image: by Dr Susan Hayesfrom the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Archaeological Science.

Dr Yousuke Kaifu, from Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science, compared the fossils with a large dataset of modern and fossil hominins to identify them.

“All the fossils are indisputably hominin and they appear to be remarkably similar to those of Homo floresiensis,” he says.

“The morphology of the fossil teeth also suggests that this human lineage represents a dwarfed descendant of early Homo erectus that somehow got marooned on the island of Flores”.

“What is truly unexpected is that the size of the finds indicates that Homo floresiensis had already obtained its small size by at least 700,000 years ago.”

Dr van den Bergh discusses the find in this video clip:

Stone artefacts uncovered from the same region date back to at least one million years ago.

In January this year, a team led by Dr van den Bergh showed the occurrence of stone tools on Sulawesi that predated the arrival of modern humans on that island.

The hominin fossils were found in a river-laid sandstone covered, sealed and preserved by an ancient volcanic mudflow.

Dr van den Bergh says the key to fully evaluating the finds now is the recovery of additional, more complete hominin skeletal remains from the proven deposits at Mata Menge, or from older fossil-bearing strata.

The team has already been excavating at a site near Mata Menge that dates back to around one million years, in collaboration with colleagues from the National Centre for Archaeological Research in Jakarta.

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