'Hobbit' island colonised much earlier than thought

Mar 17, 2010
A handout photo shows an artist's impression released by the University of Wollongong, south of Sydney, showing a human species discovered by Australian and Indonesian scientists on the Indonesian island of Flores and named Homo floresiensis, in 2004. Flores was colonised by humans much earlier than thought, scientists said on Wednesday.

Flores, the Indonesian island where skeletal remains of famous "hobbit hominids" were found in 2003, was colonised by humans much earlier than thought, scientists said on Wednesday.

Humans settled in Flores around a million years ago, at least 120,000 years sooner than previously estimated, they reported in the journal Nature.

Flores leapt into the headlines seven years ago when archaeologists found the of tiny humans who measured only a metre (3.25 feet) in height, weighed just 30 kilos (65 pounds) and had the brain the size of a chimp's.

The extraordinary discovery sparked an intellectual battle that has raged ever since.

On one side are those who say the "hobbits" -- whose nickname is inspired by the little people of J.R.R. Tolkien's tales -- are a separate species of human, whom they honour with the Latin name Homo floresiensis, or Man of Flores.

On the other are those who dismiss the tribute, and argue the hobbits were just diseased Homo sapiens, with a disorder that made them midget-like.

The new study is based on the dating of a layer of volcanic sediment covering tools found at a location called Wolo Sege, in the Soa basin of Flores.

"We don't know which hominins made the million-year-old tools because, regrettably, no human fossils were found with the tools," lead author Adam Brumm of the University of Woollongong, in Australia's New South Wales, told AFP in an email.

"However, our working hypothesis is that the Soa Basin toolmakers were the ancestors of ... , an argument that is supported in some ways by the close similarities between their ."

The previous timing for the arrival of hominins, a term that covers humans and chimps, was 880,000 years ago, thanks to evidence at a site called Mata Menge, just 500 metres (yards) from Wolo Sege.

That date coincided with the mass death of two enigmatic species on Flores, a dwarf elephant called Stegodon sondaari and a giant tortoise named Geochelone.

The coincidence prompted some experts to pin the die-out on humans, whose expansion is notoriously linked to species extinction through hunting or habitat destruction.

But the new research suggests that, for once, man may not be to blame.

The cause of these animals' demise may well have been a volcanic eruption that blanketed the area, or other natural causes, including climate change, it says.

The hobbit remains, found farther west in the cave of Liang Bua in 2003, were about 18,000 years old, which means the hominids were contemporaries of Homo sapiens, as anatomically modern man is called.

If the hobbits are accepted as a separate species, it remains unclear how and when they emerged.

According to theories, they may have descended from branches of the human lineage known as Homo erectus or Homo habilis.

They would have derived their tiny size through "insular dwarfing", an evolutionary downsizing that occurs among creatures which move to islands where food is scarce.

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User comments : 10

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Loodt
1.4 / 5 (10) Mar 17, 2010
This is a very sweeping statement: -

The coincidence prompted some experts to pin the die-out on humans, whose expansion is notoriously linked to species extinction through hunting or habitat destruction...

Apart from the stupid Dodo, please give more examples. If the species is too stupid to adapt, it deserves to die. That is the basis of evolution: the stupid, weak, and silly die.

Or must we save every single stupid farting frog because Noah went to all the trouble carrying it in its Ark?
Glyndwr
5 / 5 (3) Mar 17, 2010
that frog may be weak Loodt but it may contain genetic code or pathways that will help with humanity...also nothing wrong with keeping all the species alive in zoos and such forth as variety is the spice of life :D
Loodt
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 17, 2010
Why don't we just keep the gene code?

Unless Noah and Creationism is the driving force of the scientific debate?
Shootist
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 17, 2010
This is a very sweeping statement: -

The coincidence prompted some experts to pin the die-out on humans, whose expansion is notoriously linked to species extinction through hunting or habitat destruction...

Apart from the stupid Dodo, please give more examples. If the species is too stupid to adapt, it deserves to die. That is the basis of evolution: the stupid, weak, and silly die.

Or must we save every single stupid farting frog because Noah went to all the trouble carrying it in its Ark?


carolina parakeet
passenger pigeon
ground slouth
sabre toothed tiger
cave bear
dire wolf
moa
probably south american terror birds

believe me the green weenies have nothing to do with people who believe in such things as arks and noah.
Ronan
4.5 / 5 (4) Mar 18, 2010
Loodt: I'd recommend looking up a good list of creatures that have been driven to extinction in the past ~500 or so years; a few of those would have died out in any case, but the majority were killed off by human influences. Raphus cucullatus has a LOT of company.

As for this..."If the species is too stupid to adapt, it deserves to die. That is the basis of evolution: the stupid, weak, and silly die." I'm not exactly sure how it makes sense to blame a species for not being able to deal with something like humanity. A very few, by lucky chance, happen to have traits that "work" with us, but most--unsurprisingly--have never encountered anything like us and, consequently, can't cope. "Adapating" to humanity is the equivalent of "adapting" to being hit by a train; it takes some doing.
Loodt
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 18, 2010
Very few of all the species that lived on earth is still alive today. All the skeletons of the 'dragons' being excavated today is point in fact.

Do you think Homo Sapiens will be around in 1 million years? Its only frollicked around mother Gaia for a few years, say 70 - to 100 000, depending on which source you pick.

Who will you blame then for the weak, stupid, and silly that die out?

Either you believe in evolution, with all its dire and grim consequences, or you are back with Noah!
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (3) Mar 18, 2010
The fact that evolution causes a species to be destroyed doesn't mean we can't choose to save it. Part of the evolution of humans was the evolution of thought. We are capable of seeing in advance the consequences of our actions. It may be in our best interest to save them. Evolution has no set path and does not have a goal to achieve, it acts only on the here and now. We however can see what will happen to us in the years to come to a degree, and plan our actions accordingly. Fires are natural too, but we put them out. The only thing grim would be having the ability to choose our fate and choosing poorly.
shadfurman
3 / 5 (2) Mar 18, 2010
I agree, we should make some effort to preserve a any living species. The reason I think so is a selfish one, we may be able to learn something. In the scale of eternity, the saving of a species will have no moral implications. In fact, in the line of eternity, most actions will be of absolutely no moral consequence. Unless we learn a technology to remove ourselves from the probabilities imposed by time we are merely complex chemical reactions we will eventually fizzle out like a fire that has run out of fuel and oxygen.

However I don't see the point our society has on blaming humanity for every wrong, real or imagined, that crosses the thought of a scientist or political figure. I'm sure humanity can be blamed for the extinction of some species, its sad we do not have the added variety (how many species of Apples have we lost? Thousands in the last few hundred years.) So what?
Mstardom
not rated yet Mar 20, 2010
Humans evolved over time just like other animals living today. Therefore, if humans today should be compared to what humans were millions of years ago, we would see that they would be very different partly because their environment would have been more harsh than the way it is today. It could have been more hotter causing humans to appear darker or cooler, which would cause humans to appear lighter. The bottom line is that 100 million years from now humans will be very different if the environment differs that many years from now. As a result of our experience and familiarity with our planet, we know that environmental changes will continue to occur, which will eventually put the squeeze on human's evolutionary pressures. So, our environment governs the way we will look in the future.
Mstardom
not rated yet Mar 20, 2010
Humans evolved over time just like other animals living today. Therefore, if humans today should be compared to what humans were millions of years ago, we would see that they would be very different partly because their environment would have been more harsh than the way it is today. It could have been more hotter causing humans to appear darker or cooler, which would cause humans to appear lighter. The bottom line is that 100 million years from now humans will be very different if the environment differs that many years from now. As a result of our experience and familiarity with our planet, we know that environmental changes will continue to occur, which will eventually put the squeeze on human's evolutionary pressures. So, our environment governs the way we will look in the future.

And our environments in the past have governed the way we look today!