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Meet the Hobbit

Dr Matt Tocheri introduces us to Homo floresiensis and identifies characteristics of hobbit skeletal remains

“It’s almost like the skeleton acts like a time machine, and different parts of the body give us information about different periods of earlier human evolution…” (Dr Matt Tocheri, palaeoanthropologist)

The study of human evolution has always been about finding features that set humans apart from other animals. Without a fossil record, it’s easy to think that that package of features evolved together and are all interrelated, yet the fossil record continuously shows that this is not the case. Many of these features evolved independently at different times and in different places. For example, in contrast to the predictions of palaeoanthropologists 100 years ago, fossil and archaeological records show that tool use came before the expansion of the brain.

What does it really mean to be human?

“We have our view, but it’s a very Homo sapiens view. And yet we have to now recognise that there were other humans living on this planet that overlapped with our species that were actually human in a very different way, in a very foreign way compared to what we conceptualise as what that means” (Dr Matt Tocheri, palaeoanthropologist).

Hobbit Characteristics

  • Small canines
  • Foramen magnum (area for the spinal cord) tucked underneath the skull, not positioned more posteriorly (as in a quadruped).
  • Remarkably small brain
  • Constriction behind the eye orbits where the cranium is narrowed (not present in modern humans)
  • Interesting mandible: full set of adult dentition, including all three permanent molars (evidence that it is an adult, not a child)
  • Stature approximately 106 cm tall
  • Body proportions very different to modern humans
  • Similar body proportions to Australopithecus afarensis (3 million years old) from East Africa
  • Arms and legs are more similar in overall length than in modern humans
  • Laterally flaring pelvis (upper part of the pelvis flares out to the side)
  • Proportionately long feet
  • Longer toes (more like mini fingers)

Conversation starter

  • How does the skeleton of Homo floresiensis compare with ours?

  • How may the body proportions of Homo floresiensis have affected its capacity for movement?

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Homo Floresiensis Uncovered: The Science of ‘the Hobbit’

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