In 2003, the remains of what looked like tiny humans were found in Indonesia on the island of Flores. Named "Homo floresiensis," people took to calling them “hobbits” in reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional tiny men from “Lord of the Rings.” A new study, however, says these 3-foot specimens are not humans at all, but rather their own distinct species, which might have lived as recently as 12,000 years ago.
A great deal of research has gone into the hobbit remains. Scientists assumed that if the hobbit’s size could be tied to the known growth disorders seen in humans, Homo sapiens, then we’d know Homo floresiensis was just a bizarre community within our species. A new study published in PLoS ONE shows hobbits did not suffer from microcephaly, Laron syndrome or endemic hypothyroidism.
Lead author and anthropologist at Stony Brook University on Long Island, Karen Baab, told the New York Times that by studying the only complete hobbit skull in existence scientists “tried to test pretty much every hypothesis” and provide “a much more complete view.”
They found hobbits are more similar to ancient hominids that any modern human specimen, making them a distinct species that branched off of the genus Homo, which was closely related to Homo erectus and might have preceded Neanderthals. Living 94,000 to 13,000 years ago, stone tools were also found near the hobbit remains.
"Our study provides further support for recognizing the Flores hominins as a distinct species, H. floresiensis, whose affinities lie with archaic Homo," says the study in PLoS ONE.