Friday, 1 May 2009

Bilbo finds his feet

This month more light was shed on the origins of the hobbit - Homo floresiensis. It's a hominid species that was discovered six years ago in caves on an Indonesian island. They're a little controversial, these guys. And little. About a metre tall - hence the hobbit tag. Nobody knows if they had hairy feet.

Anyway - they are very interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, bones have been found dating between 95,000 years and 12-13,000 years. That's not very long ago, even within the human evolutionary timeframe. It's thought they lived alongside modern H. sapiens. Well, possibly in different caves.

Secondly, a number of scientists argue that they are not a distinct species. Some have said the solitary complete skull found is a bit of an anomoly, others saying the whole colony was a group of pinhead dwarf humans. More recent study has shown considerable differences between the hobbit skull and human microcephalic skulls, pointing towards the distinct species theory. Further research on the bones of the arms and wrists support this and would seem to provide conclusive evidence that the hobbits split from the hominid line earlier than H. sapiens.

Similarities to Australopithecus, a hominid that died out in Africa about 1.5 million years ago have led to suggestions that an ancestor of Australopithecus or Homo habilis left Africa earlier than it was previously thought. As with other species living on isolated islands, they remained separate and distinct from other species. The Out of Africa migration of modern humans is thought to have taken place between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago. By this time, clearly, hobbits had already been established in their Indonesian caves. The rapid spread of Homo sapiens into Europe and across the globe led to the disappearance of all other hominid species. (Something we said?) Seems like the hobbits lasted a bit longer than the rest.

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