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The one metre (3ft) tall, 30kg (65lbs) humans roamed the Indonesian island of Flores, perhaps up to 8,000 years ago.
Since the discovery, researchers have argued vehemently as to the identity of these diminutive people.
Two papers in the journal Nature now support the idea they were an entirely new species of human.
The team, which discovered the tiny remains in Liang Bua cave on Flores, contends that the population belongs to the species Homo floresiensis - separate from our own grouping, Homo sapiens.
The group argues that the "Hobbits" are descended from a prehistoric species of human - perhaps Homo erectus - which reached island South-East Asia more than a million years ago.
Over many years, their bodies most likely evolved to be smaller in size, through a natural selection process called island dwarfing, claim the discoverers, and many other scientists.
Insular dwarfism, a form of Phyletic dwarfism, is the process and condition of the reduction in size of large animals – almost always mammals – when their gene pool is limited to a very small environment, primarily islands. The intentional breeding of insular dwarfism is called dwarfing.
This effect has made itself manifest many times throughout natural history, including dinosaurs, like Europasaurus, and modern animals such as elephants.
There are several proposed explanations for the mechanism which produces such dwarfism, which are often considered likely to be co-contributing factors, including an evolved gene-encoded response to environmental stress, as well as a selective process where only the smaller of the animals trapped on the island survive, as food declines to a borderline level. The smaller animals need fewer resources, and so are more likely to get past the break-point where population decline allows food sources to replenish enough for the survivors to flourish.
In another study, Eleanor Weston and Adrian Lister of London's Natural History Museum looked at fossils of several species of ancient hippos. They then compared those found on the island of Madagascar with the mainland ancestors from which they evolved.
"It could be that H. floresiensis' skull is that of a Homo erectus that has become dwarfed from living on an island, rather than being an abnormal individual or separately-evolved species, as has been suggested," said Dr Weston, a palaeontologist at the museum.
"Looking at pygmy hippos in Madagascar, which possess exceptionally small brains for their size, suggests that the same could be true for H. floresiensis, and that (it could be) the result of being isolated on the island."
Public curiosity about the new species abounded, and, in homage to a short-statured race in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, it was soon dubbed “hobbit-like.” However, the initial analysis of the find and the dwarfing hypothesis were immediately challenged by the scholarly community. Some subsequent examinations of the remains contradicted the original conclusions, suggesting instead that they represent a population of modern humans that was quite gracile (slender) but of normal height. In contrast, other investigations, which compared the specimen’s gait, foot size, and skull size to that of modern humans, suggested that the remains belong to a new species, perhaps one that descended from an ancestor more primitive than H. erectus.
Originally posted by serbsta
Who or what is living there?
Nothing, from what we've seen so far. Wait... methane gas? Does that count.
Originally posted by stanlee
Ahem./.. correction there mate. at least according to the data that we've been GIVEN so far
THE identity of the tiny human-like creature discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004 has become clearer -- and more astonishing -- thanks to a new analysis by Australian and Indonesian scientists.
According to a team led by Australian National University doctoral student Debbie Argue, not only is Homo floresiensis, nicknamed the hobbit, not a deformed modern human, as a handful of critics claim, but the small-brained, long-armed biped was the first human-like creature to walk out of Africa.
And it did so nearly two million years ago, roughly 100,000 years before..
When populations share genetic background and environmental factors, average height is frequently characteristic within the group. Exceptional height variation (around 20% deviation from average) within such a population is usually due to gigantism or dwarfism; which are medical conditions due to specific genes or to endocrine abnormalities. In regions of extreme poverty or prolonged warfare, environmental factors like malnutrition during childhood or adolescence may account for marked reductions in adult stature even without the presence of any of these medical conditions. This is one reason that immigrant populations from regions of extreme poverty to regions of plenty may show an increase in stature, despite sharing the same gene pool.