Origins of Indonesian hobbits finally revealed

April 21, 2017
Artist's impression of Homo floresiensis. Credit: Katrina Kenny, SA Museum

The most comprehensive study on the bones of Homo floresiensis, a species of tiny human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, has found that they most likely evolved from an ancestor in Africa and not from Homo erectus as has been widely believed.

The study by The Australian National University (ANU) found Homo floresiensis, dubbed "the hobbits" due to their small stature, were most likely a sister species of Homo habilis—one of the earliest known species of human found in Africa 1.75 million years ago.

Data from the study concluded there was no evidence for the popular theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, the only other early hominid known to have lived in the region with fossils discovered on the Indonesian mainland of Java.

Study leader Dr Debbie Argue of the ANU School of Archaeology & Anthropology, said the results should help put to rest a debate that has been hotly contested ever since Homo floresiensis was discovered.

"The analyses show that on the , Homo floresiensis was likely a sister species of Homo habilis. It means these two shared a common ancestor," Dr Argue said.

"It's possible that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or the moved from Africa then evolved into Homo floresiensis somewhere."

A reconstructed skull of Homo floresiensis. Credit: Stuart Hay, ANU.

Homo floresiensis is known to have lived on Flores until as recently as 54,000 years ago.

The study was the result of an Australian Research Council grant in 2010 that enabled the researchers to explore where the newly-found species fits in the human evolutionary tree.

Where previous research had focused mostly on the skull and lower jaw, this study used 133 data points ranging across the skull, jaws, teeth, arms, legs and shoulders.

Dr Argue said none of the data supported the theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from Homo erectus.

"We looked at whether Homo floresiensis could be descended from Homo erectus," she said.

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Credit: Australian National University

"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 Argue said this was supported by the fact that in many features, such as the structure of the jaw, Homo floresiensis was more primitive than Homo erectus.

"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 Argue said the analyses could also support the theory that Homo floresiensis could have branched off earlier in the timeline, more than 1.75 million years ago.

"If this was the case Homo floresiensis would have evolved before the earliest Homo habilis, which would make it very archaic indeed," she said.

Credit: Australian National University

Professor Mike Lee of Flinders University and the South Australian Museum, used statistical modeling to analyse the data.

"When we did the analysis there was really clear support for the relationship with Homo habilis. Homo floresiensis occupied a very primitive position on the human evolutionary tree," Professor Lee said.

"We can be 99 per cent sure it's not related to Homo erectus and nearly 100 per cent chance it isn't a malformed Homo sapiens," Professor Lee said.

Explore further: One more Homo species? Recent 3-D-comparative analysis confirms status of Homo floresiensis as a fossil human species

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12 comments

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Bart_A
1.9 / 5 (18) Apr 21, 2017
What's with the scientific background (if any) of this species showing a hairy female? Have we found any DNA associated with these hobbits? (Answer: no, we haven't) There is more unfounded speculation than science here. I will speculate that they are merely an extinct monkey.
syndicate_51
3.3 / 5 (7) Apr 21, 2017
You can't know if that's how their face looked or how much hair they had.

That is entirely speculative.
malapropism
4.7 / 5 (12) Apr 21, 2017
I will speculate that they are merely an extinct monkey.

Monkeys have tails and other features that these don't; they are clearly hominids. The point about hairy skin in the model is good however - I don't think there is evidence either way on that.
baudrunner
2.1 / 5 (7) Apr 21, 2017
Monkeys have tails and other features that these don't; they are clearly hominids
First of all, you should be referencing apes, not monkeys, and the apes that are most often compared with human evolution - gorillas and chimpanzees - do not have tails.
IronhorseA
1 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2017
"should help put to rest a debate that has been hotly contested ever since Homo floresiensis was discovered."

The debate was whether or not they were descended from homo erectus or homo sapiens.
rrrander
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 22, 2017
They're just like African pygmies. People who didn't have a good enough diet and ended-up stunted.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.7 / 5 (7) Apr 23, 2017
How religionists think (with translation)...
What's with the scientific background (if any) of this species showing a hairy female?
(as I havent seen it, and wouldnt understand it if I did, it mustnt exist)
Have we found any DNA associated with these hobbits?(Answer: no, we haven't)
(And because we havent we never will.)
There is more unfounded speculation than science here
(And so because of my first 2 conclusions I am justified in making this 3rd thing up principally because i am a believer and god gives me special powers of insight)

-Religionists get very nasty when people dont take this thinking seriously. Because THEY are deadly serious.

And whenever they get the power to do so they will force it upon you and forbid you to think about anything else.

End religion before it ends us.
Bart_A
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 24, 2017
Ghost, like all good hatred-spewing liberals, can't even scientifically answer couple scientific questions. He only seeks his own glory. How sad!

By the way, what's this about tails? Indonesian hobbits have not been shown to not have tails. People above are making up stories like they know that hobbits didn't have tails. They slopplily use science.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Apr 24, 2017
Ghost, like all good hatred-spewing liberals, can't even scientifically answer couple scientific questions. He only seeks his own glory. How sad!
-unlike godders who already know the answers before they even ask.

Your questions are only ever rhetorical. And usually insulting.
Zzzzzzzz
1 / 5 (2) Apr 24, 2017
Delusions are fragile, and require constant and vigorous defense. Religious belief systems are the most widely spread psychosis in humans, and is one of the most fragile delusions. It requires the most vigorous defense. Most of the time defense of the delusion of religion involves weapons, warfare, and genocide.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Apr 24, 2017
Ghost, like all good hatred-spewing liberals, can't even scientifically answer couple scientific questions. He only seeks his own glory
And BTW 'bart' I'm pretty much the exact opposite of liberal.

Liberal or conservative it only requires a brain to hate religionist bigots.
Bart_A
1 / 5 (2) Apr 25, 2017
Ghost---thank you. You proved my point again.

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