real-life hobbits

Image credit: National Geographic Society

Every time fossils are found, we wait in anticipation for the unveiling of a new bundle of information. With each discovery, we find that we are varied creatures, which with time, have branched out in numerous directions and ancient pathways. A recent analysis of a decade old find reveals a new species, which once was thought to be a mutated form of our own race. It seems we may have found another race, stranger and to some ways, more advanced than our on.

Ten years ago in the Liang Bua cave on the Indonesian Islands of Flores, late Pleistocene deposits revealed fossils that lead humanity to believe we had stumbled upon a new species. The Homo floresiensis lived between 17,000 and one million years ago, standing only one meter tall. Between then and now, it was believed that the short stature was only a form of dwarfism and not a characteristic of a new species.

The Homo Floresiensis was indeed a race of small people, very much like J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits but stranger still; they exhibited features that didn’t quite fit into this mold. They weren’t just a mutated race, they were something else.

Confusion in the details

Taking a closer look at the Homo floresiensis, we find more than a few unique characteristics. The Homo floresiensis has an odd mix of primitive features, such as small body and brain like the late Pleistocene Homo, but with unique skeletal characteristics. The upper versus lower limb proportions are like the Australopithecus and the cranial shape is more like the Homo erectus. With such a mixture, it’s hard to detect what this creature could have been.

The answers

The best way to decipher this new found species is to take a look at its teeth. University of Tokyo’s Yousuke Kaifu led a team to conduct comparisons with multiple sets of teeth. Both crown size and contour were examined of the 490 Homo sapiens, early Homo erectus from the Indonesian Island of Java from about a million years ago and the Homo floresiensis, Homo habilis from around 2 million years ago. Among these specimens, the Homo floresiensis had the most startling results. The canines were found to be primitive while the molars were advanced. The primitive dental aspects can be compared to Homo erectus from the early Pleistocene while the advanced molars seem more progressive than modern humans. This combination isn’t found in any other species of hominin, including our own direct ancestors.

Unfortunately, there is no simple conclusion to this mystery. The closest explanation would be that the Homo floresiensis derived from an Asian Homo erectus population that experienced dwarfism while living on an isolated island. As of now, results lean toward the ancient hobbits being one of the newest found species on planet Earth.

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Sherrie is a freelance writer and artist with over 10 years of experience. She spends most of her time giving life to the renegade thoughts. As the words erupt and form new life, she knows that she is yet again free from the nagging persistence of her muse. She is a mother of three and a lifetime fan of the thought-provoking and questionable aspects of the universe.