Saturday, February 21, 2009

Homo Floresiensis: Hobbits of Southeast Asia

What is Homo floresiensis? This question has plagued scientists since the 2003 discovery of these hominids in the remote island of Flores, Indonesia. A few specimens, found only inside the cave of Liang Bua in Flores, were given the names LB1, LB2 and so on. Their small stature, thought to be no taller than a three-year-old human child, led to them being nicknamed “Hobbits” by scientists after J.R.R. Tolkien's tiny Lord of The Rings” characters. Homo floresiensis is thought to have co-existed with modern humans starting from about 18,000 years ago to about 13,000 years ago -- pretty recent in geological time. What Is The Hobbit?

Height comparison between Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo floresiensis. Illustration from

Cranial comparison between LB1 (Homo floresiensis) and modern human. Photo from

A recent article suggests that Homo floresiensis existed alongside modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens). If Homo floresiensis were indeed contemporaneous to modern humans, then they could have been the sourceof local myths such as the “Ebu Gogo” and “Orang Pendek”. Cryptozoology and mythology aside, scientists are still debating whether Homo floresiensis is a species of its own or just a small population of Homo sapiens sapiens that suffered from cretinism.

Putting a face to the hobbit (Facial reconstruction from LB1 cranial). Photo from

So who really were Homo floresiensis? A species of their own or just individuals that suffered from cretinism? We still do not know.

If Homo floresiensis were indeed a species of their own, did they evolve out of
Austrolopithecine, Homo erectus or even archaic Homo sapiens?

If Homo floresiensis were actually archaic
Homo sapiens suffering from cretinism, how did they survive well pass adulthood and use stone tools to hunt?

Currently there is no consensus whether Homo floresiensis were a separate species or just individuals who suffered from cretinism. What do you think?


Unknown said...

I think that I am frustrated..!! I really would like to see research advance on this. Is there no hope of any DNA tests? Also, from skull casts can't one determine whether frontal lobe development was similar to ours, relative to overall brain size and taking into account any allometric relations found in H sapiens varying in overall size. Also, what was the brain-body mass ratio?

Raymond Vagell said...

Maybe this entry would help.

I'm actually heading to Stony Brooks next week for the symposium where they will unveil the first ever complete Homo floresiensis cast.

There might be hope for DNA tests if they can find DNA in those fossils. Relative brain size and brain/body ratio can be iffy sometimes and are not truly representative, if my opinion.

Nonetheless, I agree with the notion that Homo floresiensis are a species of their own.

PatrickB said...

Great article Raymond. I agree also that that H. Floresiensis are a seperate species. I can't wait to hear your observations of the cast next week!

Raymond Vagell said...

I will write an entry after I get back from the symposium. I got my camera ready for sexy time with the cast, LOL. Let's just hope it's not inside a reflective glass case like the ones from museums.

Anonymous said...

Richard Dawkins work "The Ancestor's Tale". and especially the "handyman's tale" should be of interest. I cannot remember exactly where, but within the first 80 pages there is some reference to homoinids in isolated groups. As the book was written before H. floresiensis discovered it should be of interest.

Anonymous said...

It appears they survived into the modern Polynesian
Unique jaw and femur designs, not from Africa.