The Hobbit’s of Flores vanished from the Indonesian island thousands of years earlier than originally thought; scientists now suspect our species may have had a hand in their demise.
It was previously thought that they had co-existed with modern humans for tens of thousands of years. However, an international team of scientists who have re-investigated the original findings, disagree.
The initial discovery of the Homo floresiensis remains in 2003, dubbed “hobbits” by scientists as they only grew to just over three feet tall, were dated to as early as 12,000 years ago. This had led to some scientists believing that these inhabitants co-existed with modern humans for tens of thousands of years.
However, excavations at Liang Bua cave conducted between 2007 and 2014 have revealed that the remains mostly dated between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago. Modern humans were beginning to explore the islands of Southeast Asia around this time, but it is still unclear if the two species had ever crossed paths.
Associate Professor Maxime Aubert, a geochronologist and archaeologist at RCHE, who with RCHE’s Director Professor Rainer Grün measured the amount of uranium and thorium inside Homo floresiensis fossils to test their age, said in a statement:
“In fact, Homo floresiensis seems to have disappeared soon after our species reached Flores, suggesting it was us who drove them to extinction.
“The youngest Hobbit skeletal remains occur at 60,000 years ago, but evidence for their simple stone tools continues until 50,000 years ago. After this there are no more traces of these humans.”
“The earliest known evidence of modern humans on Flores is from about 11,000 years ago and after, but we do know that modern humans were on other islands in the region around this time and had reached Australia by 50,000 years ago. So it is certainly a possibility to be considered, but solid evidence is needed in order to demonstrate it.”
While excavating at the limestone cave of Liang Bua in 2003, archaeologists found bones from diminutive humans unlike any people alive today. The researchers concluded the tiny cave dwellers evolved from an older branch of the human family that had been marooned on Flores for at least a million years, according to Griffith University.
Study co-lead author Matthew Tocheri, a paleoanthropologist at Lakehead University in Ontario, told Live Science:
“Homo floresiensis reminds us that human diversity was far greater in the past than it is today.
“There were lots of different kinds of hominin species, and some of them shared this planet at the same time as us. But all of these other hominins have gone extinct, and we modern humans are the only ones left. We need to better understand why they went extinct and we survived in order to make better decisions as a species for how we take care of our planet and each other for the future.”
The hobbits were not the only species to suddenly disappear from the Liang Bua deposits. With vultures, giant marabou storks (study’s suggest these giant carnivorous storks may have used hobbits as a food source), Komodo dragons, and pygmy Stegodon vanishing from the area at around the same time. The scientists believe that other possible reasons for this mass extinction could include volcanic eruptions and climatic shifts. Tocheri said:
“More research is clearly needed to document what exactly happened.”
Tocheri also noted that the pygmy Stegodon was the only large-bodied herbivore known to live on Flores when the hobbit was alive, saying:
“It was clearly a primary food source for Homo floresiensis, vultures, giant marabou storks, and Komodo dragons. If something happened to cause the pygmy Stegodon population to crash, then it more than likely would have had an adverse effect on these other species.”
Griffith University wrote:
RCHE archaeologist Dr. Adam Brumm, who also participated in the study, said Hobbits are likely to have inhabited other Flores caves which may yield more recent signs of their existence. He believes Homo floresiensis probably suffered the same fate that befell Europe’s Neanderthals — our species simply out-competed and replaced them within a few thousand years.
With Brumm saying:
“They might have retreated to more remote parts of Flores, but it’s a small place and they couldn’t have avoided our species for long. I think their days were numbered the moment we set foot on the island.”
The earliest evidence of humans on Flores comes from an area called the Soa Basin, lead author Thomas Sutikna of the University of Wollongong and the National Research Center for Archaeology, said. One million-year-old stone tools consisting of hammered flakes and cores were found at Soa Basin, and could have been made by the Hobbits or their ancestors.
While the Hobbit’s origins are murky at best, however, it is suspected that they either evolved from Homo erectus, or descended from another unknown species of human that may have left Africa 1 to 2 million years ago.