ans of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings will know that the hobbits played a key role in the battle for Middle Earth. These little guys were short in stature, but they more than made up for this with their heart and courage. And while Frodo and Bilbo Baggins belong to the realms of fantasy, it turns out that there were Hobbit-like people were walking the earth many thousands of years ago known as Homo floresiensis.
A new link in the chain
Only discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, the hobbit-like people are now formally known as Homo floresiensis.
The discovery of the bones of these ancient people was a fantastic one, but also a find that has caused a lot of consternation as to exactly where they fit in our evolutionary tree.
At first, it was claimed that these hobbits were simply short Homo sapiens, but new research suggests that this is not true at all. It turns out that these unique ancestors are instead one of the oldest forms of humans that we have ever encountered.
Homo floresiensis was not descended from Homo sapiens at all but actually some kin of Homo habilis who lived in Africa a mind-boggling 1.75 million years ago.
This would mean that floresiensis evolved in Africa and then migrated at some point to Indonesia, and possibly other parts of the world.
This suggestion that floresiensis is connected to Habilis and not sapiens is a new one that is not without controversy.
Dr. Debbie Argue, of the Australian National University, who led the most recent research on floresiensis, said:
“THE ANALYSES SHOW THAT ON THE FAMILY TREE, HOMO FLORESIENSIS WAS LIKELY A SISTER SPECIES OF HOMO HABILIS.”Dr. Debbie Argue, School of Archaeology & Anthropology
This assertion puts the recent research at odds with the original assumption that the hobbit people were evolved from Homo erectus.
Homo erectus was believed to have lived on earth from around 1.8 million years ago and up to as recently as 35,000 years ago.
After studying the bones found in Indonesia, however, Dr. Argue states that there is no evidence that the hobbits had evolved from Erectus.
“WE FOUND THAT IF YOU TRY AND LINK THEM ON THE FAMILY TREE, YOU GET A VERY UNSUPPORTED RESULT, ALL THE TESTS SAY IT DOESN’T FIT – IT’S JUST NOT A VIABLE THEORY.”Dr. Debbie Argue, School of Archaeology & Anthropology
The main reason for this according to recent research is because of the jaw bone of the hobbits. A distinctive feature of the hobbits, apart from their very small size, is that their jaw bone was deemed to be of a version that evolved earlier than that seen in Erectus.
As Dr. Argue states:
“LOGICALLY, IT WOULD BE HARD TO UNDERSTAND HOW YOU COULD HAVE THAT REGRESSION – WHY WOULD THE JAW OF HOMO ERECTUS EVOLVE BACK TO THE PRIMITIVE CONDITION WE SEE IN HOMO FLORESIENSIS?”Dr. Debbie Argue, School of Archaeology & Anthropology
There may be some debate about exactly where the hobbits lie in the evolutionary journey, but a further fascinating fact is that these ancient people still walked the earth around 15,000 years ago.
This suggests that the hobbits, much like those in the Lord of the Rings, were an incredibly resilient species. It also means that while they massively predate the arrival of Homo sapiens, they were still around 65,000 years ago when Homo sapiens are thought to have reached Australia.
This means that our very own ancestors may have had some contact with these amazing real-life hobbits.