Scientists Find Further Evidence That Hobbits Did In Fact Exist
Now, if you have any knowledge of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings, you have probably heard of the Hobbits, a race of dwarf humanoids playing a major role in the events of these books.
Well, believe it or not, ‘Homo floresiensis’ otherwise known to us as “hobbit’s” were discovered in Liang Bua cave in 2003.
The formerly fictional, diminutive, humanoid “Hobbit” race who inhabit the lands of Middle-earth in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fiction; also referred to as Halflings, were originally thought to have shared the planet with us until 13,000 years ago.
However, with the research now more than 10 years in the making, the disappearance of “hobbits” on the Indonesian island of Flores has been pushed back to 50,000 years ago, after recent excavations revealed flaws in the original dating of the controversial species of primitive humans.
In the original 2003 discovery, made by a team led by the late Australia-based rock-art specialist Mike Morwood, not only did anthropologists find the skeletal remains of a hobbit-sized, 30-year-old adult female, in this fairy-tale-like discovery they also uncovered in the same limestone cave the remains of a Komodo dragon, stone tools and a dwarf elephant.
It was undoubtedly the most astonishing find of a generation. However, its precarious place in the human family tree has been contentious at best. Having come to provoke a long-running and sometimes acrimonious debate among scientists: was she really one of a race of mini-humans or was she merely one of us, but with a brain-shrinking disease?
“We now have the remains of at least seven hobbit-sized individuals at the cave site, so the 18,000-year-old skeleton cannot be some kind of ‘freak’ that we just happened to stumble across first,” said Bert Roberts, an anthropologist at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, and co-author of the study about the find in this week’s issue of the journal “Nature.”
Subsequent finds of other similarly sized, 3-foot-tall humans with brains the size of grapefruits in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores suggest these prehistoric specimens weren’t a quirk of an ancient hominin, but part of an entire species of miniature people whose existence overlapped with that of modern Homo sapiens.
According to many scientists, a species of miniature beings distantly related to Homo sapiens once lived on the Indonesian island of Flores. Now, in a find that has intrigued and surprised scholars, an international team has unearthed fossils of the hobbits’ ancestors — fossils that may point to a radical explanation for why hobbits, officially known as Homo floresiensis, were so small.
“We dated charcoal, sediments, flowstones, volcanic ash and even the H. floresiensis bones themselves using the most up-to-date scientific methods available. In the last decade, we’ve vastly improved our understanding of when the deposits accumulated in Liang Bua, and what this means for the age of ‘hobbit’ bones and stone tools,” Richard ‘Bert’ Roberts, an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow at the University of Wollongong who oversaw the various dating analyses used in the study, said in a statement.
“But whether ‘hobbits’ encountered modern humans or other groups of humans—such as the ‘Denisovans’—dispersing through Southeast Asia remains an open and intriguing question,” he added.
Matthew Tocheri, the Canada research chair in human origins at Lakehead University and a co-author on the study, said a priority is finding evidence that modern humans and H. floresiensis overlapped on Flores. So far, the earliest evidence of modern humans on Flores goes back to 11,000 years.
The new fossils, discovered in 2014 at a site called Mata Menge, are a whopping 700,000 years old and just as tiny as the hobbits from the cave, the team reports in this week’s Nature. A partial jawbone found by van den Bergh’s team “would fit in the palm of my hand,” says Debbie Argue of The Australian National University, who was not part of the study team.
Debate over the hobbits of Mata Menge has already kicked off. Argue questions whether the new hobbits are dwarfed descendants of larger hominids who floated to Flores. She notes, for example, that scientists have found no fossils of these bigger hominids on Flores.
Other researchers are skeptical of the idea that the cave hobbits and the Mata Menge hobbits are closely related. Traits of the Mata Menge fossils show “minimal” overlap with the description of the cave hobbits, say Robert Eckhardt of Pennsylvania State University and Maciej Henneberg of Australia’s University of Adelaide.
“We want to know what the very, very first hominids to set foot on the island looked like,” Adam Brumm of Australia’s Griffith University, a co-author of the new research, told reporters Tuesday. “The search is ongoing.”
More bones may help settle the matter, and scientists continue to dig on Flores in hopes of finding hominids a million years old or more.