New Historian

New Research Suggests Humans Drove Hobbits to Extinction

H.floresiensis skulls

<![CDATA[Homo floresiensis, aka the ‘Hobbit’ people, were first discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia and ever since researchers have wondered how they were able to co-exist with early humans when no other group had. The answer? They didn’t. New excavations and dating have concluded that the Hobbit people died away 50,000 years ago, tens of thousands of years earlier than previous testing indicated. In fact, the new data suggests that instead of living alongside them, modern humans may have driven H.floresiensis to extinction. In hindsight though, the error is clear to see. The first Hobbit fossils were considered too precious and fragile to undergo radiocarbon analysis. In lieu of testing the bones, researchers gathered charcoal found nearby under the assumption it had accumulated at the same time as the fossils. The charcoal was tested and dated to 11,000 years old. Modern humans spread throughout Australia and Asia around 50,000 years ago. “Somehow these tiny people had survived on this island 30,000 years after modern humans arrived”, Richard Roberts, with the University of Wollongong, told Nature “We were scratching our heads. It couldn’t add up.” Previous research shows the Neanderthals disappeared shortly after the arrival of modern humans in Africa and Europe. So the team continued excavations in Liang Bua (the limestone cave where the original fossils were found), primarily to search for more remains, and to gain a better understanding of the enormous cave and its geology. Freshly excavated rock and dirt (removed from the same layer of sediment as the Hobbit bones) was tested using several different methods and the results showed the samples were 100,000 to 60,000 years old. Tom Higham, with the University of Oxford, UK, considers the recent dating results compelling, telling Nature “These results are tantalizingly close to the earliest evidence for modern humans in the region, which might suggest a causal link to the subsequent disappearance of H. floresiensis.” Homo floresiensis (which translates as Flores Man) would have been around 3.5 feet (1.1 meters) tall. A total of nine partial skeletons were recovered in 2003, and included one with a complete skull, which is referred to as “LB1”. It’s been determined that LB1 is the skeleton of a 30-year-old female (nicknamed the Little Lady of Flores or “Flo”). Her height has been estimated to be 3 feet and 6 inches (1.06 meters). There has been intense and continuous research since their first discovery just to determine whether or not the Hobbit people represent a species separate from modern humans. Some experts have posited that the historical H. floresiensis could be connected to the Ebu Gogo myths which were prevalent on the island of Flores. Although the new research answers the co-existence question, others remain. For example; what is the Hobbit people’s evolutionary connection to other primitive humans and did they mate with modern humans? It’s also been noted that Liang Bua’s unusual geology would have made it easy for researchers to make the mistake of connecting the charcoal remains to the Hobbit remains over ten years ago. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Avandergeer]]>

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