Hobbits of Indonesia Came From Africa, Says Science

The little hobbits of Indonesia that lived a long, long time ago came from Africa, suggests a new study published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Reconstructed skull of the Indonesian hobbit, the Homo floresiensis. Photo credits: Stuart Hay, via Australian National University.

The hobbits of Indonesia were a species of humans. They are thus called because of their tiny stature. Their scientific name is Homo floresiensis, and they were discovered back in 2003, on Flores, an Indonesian island. Scientists had previously believed that they came from the Homo erectus, but the new findings point in another direction: apparently, the Indonesian hobbits most likely originated from the African Homo habilis which was defined by a size smaller than that of the H. erectus.

The H. habilis represents one of the oldest documented species of humans of Africa—they lived 1.75 million years ago.

The findings come from efforts to study the place of the H. floresiensis in the human evolutionary tree. The new study is the most extensive research done on the Indonesian hobbit. Study lead author, Dr Debbie Argue, and her colleagues from the Australian National University found that no evidence existed to support the popular assumption that H. floresiensis evolved from the large H. erectus which would be the only other old hominid thought to have resided in Java, Indonesia.

“We looked at whether Homo floresiensis could be descended from Homo erectus,” says Dr Argue.

“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.”

According to Dr Argue, the analysis of the jaw structure of the fossils shows that H. floresiensis was more primitive than the H. 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?”

Rather, the H. floresiensis would have come much earlier, over 1.75 million years ago. It is likely that H. floresiensis was a sister species of H. habilis, says Dr Argue. The two species would have had an ancestor in common. H. floresiensis would have evolved in the continent of Africa, and later migrated. Another possibility is that the common ancestor of the two is the one to have been displaced from Africa to somewhere else where it would have undergone evolution.

So, human hobbits come from Africa!

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