Everyone in my household has read the book, “The Hobbit” as well as seen the motion picture. We all loved it. We also believed this to be a story of fiction, a fantasy, a legend. It seems, however, that there is a kernel of truth that this wonderful story is built upon.
Indonesia was once home to a group of humans that were hobbit-like in stature. Living about 15,000 years ago, their skeletal remains were discovered in 2003 on the island of Flores, hence the scientists have named them Homo floresiensis. So, although humanoid, not Homo sapien, not a human like us. For this post, however, I will refer to them as “hobbits”.
The scientists want to know why they were so tiny. They question whether this was their natural stature or if they were deformed by a disease. Most of the research has centered around their tiny skulls. Their conclusions have been mixed.
One theory believes the hobbits were the descendants of Homo erectus. This was a larger, ancient humanoid creature. The theory goes that over centuries, a dwarfing process occurred as the Earth’s climate changed, forcing a physical, geographical migration and change in diet.
Scientists speculate how the hobbits arrived on Flores Island. They believe it is possible that a natural disaster, like tsunami, could have been the reason. If the theory of descending from the larger Homo erectus is to be believed, then they would have once been a part of the larger land mass of Asia. After becoming geographically separated, the smaller environment would have resulted in less resources. Thus, the “island effect” would have resulted in gradual dwarfism. This conclusion was drawn from the study scientists conducted upon the teeth of the hobbit skulls.
Another argument contends that the hobbits were, indeed, human like us, and simply smaller. Their small size the result of their unique genetics. They suspected the dwarfism was possibly a result of iodine lacking in their diet or a form of microcephaly, a disease which dwarfs the brain and skull.
Another interesting conclusion that came about from the study of the teeth is that the hobbits may be a result of inter-species breeding. Their teeth were a bit of a mixed bag. They contained genetic markers of primitive, as well as modern, humanoid species. However, they contained no genetic markers for Homo sapiens, modern man’s classification.
Researchers have determined that the hobbits originally had a stature of about five and a half feet tall with a brain of almost thirty ounces. A typical, adult hobbit stood about three feet tall (one metre). Their weight would have been approximately fifty-five pounds (twenty-five kilos). Their brains would have weighed about fourteen ounces, approximately the size of a chimpanzees brain.
They were an intelligent species who used tools. Some of these uncovered items are dated as far back as one million years. Their environment was also home to ancient creatures known to also exhibit characteristics of dwarfism, such as the Stegodon, a miniature version of an elephant-like animal.
Using state-of-the-art technology, researchers examined the boney layers of the skulls that were found. One in particular, of a hobbit the scientists named Liang Bua, had a skull that was relatively intact compared to the other eight that were discovered. They did not find evidence of disease that may have been genetic and thus to blame for the dwarfism. They did find evidence that could definitively exclude the hobbits from classification as Homo sapien. Research supports that they are a unique humanoid class of their own who went extinct about 13,000 years ago.
If those dates are accurate, they would have been around during the time of modern man’s existence in Africa and Australia. It is possible, then that our ancient ancestors may have had contact with hobbits about 50,000 years ago.
There is much that remains a mystery, such as why did they become extinct? What was their society like? Research continues and I can’t wait to hear more answers.