Fri, Apr 01, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Diminutive ‘Hobbit’ people vanished earlier than first thought: scientists

Reuters, WASHINGTON

Archeological excavations of Holocene deposits at Liang Bua on the Indonesian island of Flores are pictured in an undated handout photograph.

Photo: Reuters / Liang Bua Team

The extinct human species dubbed the “Hobbit” vanished from its home on the Indonesian island of Flores far earlier than previously thought, according to scientists who suspect our species may have had a hand in these diminutive people’s demise.

Researchers on Wednesday said they recalculated the age of bones of the species, named Homo floresiensis, found inside a Flores cave, and determined it disappeared about 50,000 years ago rather than 12,000 years ago as previously estimated.

The Hobbit’s discovery in 2003 created a scientific sensation. Homo floresiensis stood 1.06m tall, possessed a small, chimpanzee-sized brain, used stone tools and might have hunted pygmy elephants.

The researchers said there is not yet direct evidence the Hobbit people encountered Homo sapiens, but that our species was already on other islands in the region at about that time and had reached Australia by about 50,000 years ago.

Geochronologist Bert Roberts of Australia’s University of Wollongong said it was possible Homo sapiens played a role in the Hobbit’s extinction and the issue would be a major focus of further research.

“To me, the question is: ‘Would the Hobbits have become extinct if humans had never made landfall on Flores?’ And the answer is ‘no.’ We were likely the decisive factor in their demise, but we still need to find hard evidence to back up this hunch,” Roberts said.

Numerous animals disappeared on Flores at the same time, paleoanthropologist Matt Tocheri of Canada’s Lakehead University and the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program said.

These included small elephants, giant marabou storks, vultures and large Komodo dragon lizards.

After fresh excavations from 2007 to 2014 improved the understanding of the cave site, the scientists re-evaluated the ages of sediment containing Homo floresiensis remains and the actual bones.

The Hobbits’ skeletal remains were between 60,000 and 100,000 years old, while their stone tools were between 50,000 and 190,000 years old, archeologist Thomas Sutikna of the University of Wollongong and Indonesia’s National Research Centre for Archaeology said.

The research appears in the journal Nature.

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