Scientists found a 700,000-year-old jaw fragment and six teeth belonging to tiny humans on the Indonesian island of Flores. In their studies both published online on June 8 in the journal Nature, the team suggests that these remains could have belonged to the ancestors of Homo floresiensis, popularly known as “hobbits.”

“Remarkably, these fossils, which include two milk teeth from children, are at least 700,000 years old,” says lead researcher Gert van den Bergh from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Centre for Archaeological Science. “This find has important implications for our understanding of early human dispersal and evolution in the region and quashes once and for all any doubters that believe Homo floresiensis was merely a sick modern human (Homo sapiens).”

The findings suggest that the hobbits may have been a unique species of human ancestors rather than simply sick modern humans who deformed after settling on the island, as previously dismissed by scientists. It turns out that the newly-found humans could have evolved into the hobbits, although the team asserts that they do not want to jump to conclusions before finding more complete material.


Fossil of the presumed hobbit ancestors. Credit: University of Wollongong

The excavated finds at Flores’ Mata Menge site belonged to at least one adult and two children. The lower adult molar has characteristics similar to the more modern Homo erectus. The researchers cannot estimate their actual size but theorize that they were as small as the hobbits, which grew up to 3.3 feet tall or around one meter.

“All the fossils are indisputably hominin and they appear to be remarkably similar to those of Homo floresiensis,” says Yousuke Kaifu, an anthropologist from Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science. “What is truly unexpected is that the size of the finds indicates that Homo floresiensis had already obtained its small size by at least 700,000 years ago.”

The researchers are currently excavating deeper at the site to find more complete fossils that will verify the link between the hobbits and the newly found tiny human species. Moreover, they are also seeking to explain the link Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis.