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Did Modern Humans Cause the Extinction of the Hobbit’s of Flores?

(Image:  Rosino  via  Wikipedia/ CC BY 2.0 )

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.

Ass/Prof Maxime Aubert with the skull of the Homo floresiensis holotype skeleton (LB1). Aubert conducted Uranium-series dating of one of the bones from this skeleton, and bones from other ‘hobbit’ individuals from Liang Bua, to determine their age.

Ass/Prof Maxime Aubert with the skull of the Homo floresiensis holotype skeleton (LB1). Aubert conducted Uranium-series dating of one of the bones from this skeleton, and bones from other ‘hobbit’ individuals from Liang Bua, to determine their age. (Image: Griffith University)

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:

Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong and co-author of the study, which was published in the journal Nature, told Discovery News:

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:

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:

Tocheri also noted that the pygmy Stegodon was the only large-bodied herbivore known to live on Flores when the hobbit was alive, saying:

Griffith University wrote:

With Brumm saying:

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.

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