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Who is the Hobbit?

A team of scientists attempt to answer the question: "Who was Homo floresiensis (the Hobbit)?"
So who is Homo floresiensis? That’s a very interesting question. Just over a decade ago we had no idea that Homo floresiensis ever even existed. And so we’re really just beginning. We really just have the opening chapter, if you will, about who Homo floresiensis is. We only know of the species from one site. Obviously, any species do not just live in one little, small area. And so we’re basically just getting snapshots of a few individuals of that species that left their remains in the Liang Bua Cave roughly 60,000 years ago.
And so with really just getting sort of bits of that very first chapter, it’s tremendously exciting and has sparked interest of scientists and the general public from around the world for over a decade now mainly, again, because it overlaps with our species. And so knowing that we did overlap on this planet with hobbits, if you will, or the hobbits of human evolution, is eye-opening and exciting. And so hopefully over the next few decades we’ll uncover more information that gives us an even more complete picture about who Homo floresiensis is, where they came from exactly, what their particular evolutionary history is, and where the common ancestor that we share with them lived. Undoubtedly, probably that ancestor is African.
But exactly when some populations of that ancestor left Africa and ultimately led to Homo floresiensis is the ultimate big question that we’d like to have answered. If we could find all the pieces of the puzzle and lay them out on the table or lay them out in a room, then it’s just a matter of putting the puzzle together. But we don’t get all the pieces. We get little snapshots here, there, and in other places. And we have to do our best to try and get as much information of those little pieces and build the picture, even though we know that we’re missing way more than what we have.
There’s always a lot more that we don’t know than what we do know. And things can change. And even as an example with the dating of Homo floresiensis, initially this geological unconformity not being recognized in the stratigraphy during the early excavations resulted in Homo floresiensis being dated to 18,000 years ago. But now we know from our additional excavations that the sediments that Homo floresiensis was found in are directly underlying these other sediments right on top. And that’s where the date came from. We now realize that these sediments here are much, much older and, in fact, are 60,000 years and older. And so that’s a big change from what we knew 10 years ago.
And I suspect as we continue our excavations at Liang Bua, we’ll find more and more evidence and probably some more surprises that challenge even what we think we know now about Homo floresiensis. So again, we really just have not even chapter one, I’d say. We have a few pages in chapter one of Homo floresiensis. And we’re trying to figure out what that means and give an idea of what the other chapters would be like. But until we find more evidence, we won’t know for sure.

Just over a decade ago, we had no idea that Homo floresiensis even existed. So we’re really only just beginning to address the question of who Homo floresiensis is…

Skeletal remains of hobbits have only been discovered at one site — Liang Bua — providing a snapshot of a few individuals of this species from about 100, 000 to 60, 000 years ago. The similarly small fossilised hominin remains found recently in central Flores have been proposed as possible ancestors for Homo floresiensis. But the exact relationship between those 700, 000 remains and those of the Hobbit at Liang Bua awaits further study, as well as the discovery of post-cranial parts of the anatomy (e.g. wrist bones and foot bones) at the site in central Flores.

Discoveries of hobbits and their possible ancestors continue to spark the interest of scientists and the general public around the world.

“ …knowing that we did overlap on this planet with hobbits, if you will, or the hobbits of human evolution, is eye-opening and exciting” (Dr Matt Tocheri, palaeoanthropologist)

Conversation starter

  • How does information regarding the Hobbit puzzle change over time, and how was this so in the case of the dating of Homo floresiensis?
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Homo Floresiensis Uncovered: The Science of ‘the Hobbit’

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