3 years


Origin of Hobbits

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They evolved from Homo erectus, considered the immediate ancestor of modern humans

Scientists have long been puzzled about the origin of the species known as Homo floresiensis, popularly referred to as the ‘hobbit’. The fossils of the species were unearthed about a decade ago on the Indonesian island of Flores. The creature weighed about 25 kg and could grow to a height of three metres. It was estimated to have had a brain measuring 400 cc, which would be a third the size of a modern human brain, and was nicknamed the ‘hobbit’ after the tiny creatures in JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings books. The species coexisted with humans until about 12,000 years ago.

According to one theory, the hobbit evolved from Homo erectus, which is considered the direct ancestor of the modern human being. According to this theory, the relatively large-brained and large-bodied species of Homo erectus, which was living in east Asia, travelled to the island of Flores. Here, because of a process known as island dwarfism, over generations, it shrank in size. However, this theory has been rubbished because critics argue that it is impossible for the Homo erectus’ brain to shrink so drastically.

However, a new research study in Proceedings B Journal shows that this could indeed by possible. A team of Japanese researchers from the National Museum of Nature and Science have found that the fossils found in Flores could belong to a now extinct human relative that evolved in isolation for at least a million years. The researchers used high-resolution micro-CT scanning to study the brain regions of hobbit skulls. The scans found that its brain measured 426 cc, which is larger than the 400 cc estimated before. The researchers also carried out a comparative analysis of the ratio of brain-to-body size of present-day humans, and found that it is possible for Homo erectus’ brain to have shrunk to the size of the hobbit’s.

This is an exciting new development in the field of human evolution, because it indicates that the descent of modern human beings wasn’t a simple process. That in fact over the course of thousands of years there might have been many other human species that eventually failed to survive.