By Maina Kiarie
Nicknamed the Hobbit (after J.R.R. Tolkiens character from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings), Homo florensiensis lived in Indonesia (Asia) about 95,000 to 17,ooo years ago. Fossil remains were found by a joint Indonesian-Australian research team. Stone tools found on the island of Flores show that early humans arrived there at least 800,000 years ago, but it’s not known how early humans got there as the nearest island is 9 km (6 mi) away across treacherous seas. The Homo florensiensis fossil they found, LB-1, in Liang Bua cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia is a nearly complete female skeleton of a tiny human that lived about 18,000 years ago. The skeleton’s unique traits such as its small body and brain size led scientists to assign the skeleton to a new species, Homo floresiensis, named after the island on which it was discovered.
H. floresiensis individuals weighed about 30 kg and stood approximately 3 feet 6 inches tall. They had tiny brains, large teeth for their small size, shrugged-forward shoulders, no chins, receding foreheads, and relatively large feet due to their short legs. Despite their small body and brain size, H. floresiensis made and used stone tools, hunted small elephants and large rodents, coped with predators such as giant Komodo dragons, and may have used fire. Though their brain was about a third the size of ours, the species made and used stone tools, and hunted a variety of animals. The small body size of Homo floresiensis may have helped the species survive on an island with limited resources.
The diminutive stature and small brain of H. floresiensis may have resulted from island dwarfism. This is an evolutionary process that results from long-term isolation on a small island with limited food resources and a lack of predators. Pygmy elephants on Flores, now extinct, showed the same adaptation. The smallest known species of Homo and Stegodon elephant are both found on the island of Flores, Indonesia. However, some scientists are now considering the possibility that the ancestors of H. floresiensis may have been small when they first reached Flores.