Thursday, October 28, 2004


Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a new hominid species on Flores Island in Indonesia:

The 18,000-year-old specimen, known as Liang Bua 1 or LB1, has been assigned to a new species called Homo floresiensis. It was about one metre tall with long arms and a skull the size of a large grapefruit.

The researchers have since found remains belonging to six other individuals from the same species.

Because of their size - only 1m tall - the media have been quick to dub Homo floresiensis with a new name: hobbits!

The discovery raises new questions about the technological sophistication of our earlier relative Homo erectus, from which H. floresiensis is believed to have evolved. You need boats to get to Flores Island - modern humans made the journey around 40 - 50,000 years ago on the way to Australia - which is something believed to be beyond the toolmaking ability of H. erectus. But what's really interesting is that the Hobbits were contemperaneous with human settlement in the area - and that this is reflected in local legend:

Flores' inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo.

The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to "murmuring" to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.


The last evidence of this human at Liang Bua dates to just before 12,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption snuffed out much of Flores' unique wildlife.

Yet there are hints H. floresiensis could have lived on much later than this. The myths say Ebu Gogo were alive when Dutch explorers arrived a few hundred years ago and the very last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to 100 years ago.

12,000 years is an awfully long time for oral history to survive, but not entirely inconceivable, and people are probably already gearing up to go Hobbit-hunting...

But the best of all is that the remains are recent enough to possibly yield DNA. We'll be able to test it and find out exactly where it fits in the human family tree.