The OTHER Hobbit: You might know Bilbo and Frodo, but have you met “Flo?”

The Little Lady herself.
Elisabeth Daynès
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here at High Touch High Tech we’re huge fans of The Lord of The Rings AND Paleoanthropology.  So, in celebration of Hobbit Day on September 22nd, we invite you, a human of the Race of Men, and all good citizens of the Shire, Tooks, Brandybucks, and Bagginses alike, to meet your new cousin, the other Hobbit.  Her name is Flo, The Little Lady of Flores. She’s about 18,000 years old. Flo is the most complete skeleton ever found of the tiny hominin known to science as Homo Floresiensis, a mysterious, child-sized human relative that had big feet and a clever brain (predilection for second breakfast not yet confirmed).

Emőke Dénes
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Discovered in 2003 on the Island of Flores in Indonesia and immediately nicknamed “Hobbits,” the tiny hominins represent a jaw-dropping twist in the already thrilling tale of human evolution.  Showing behaviors found in other hominins such as Homo Erectus, perhaps their closest relative, these other Hobbits did what many of the human family were known to do – use tools, exhibit complex hunting behaviors, and possibly even use fire.  Except they did it all at only 3 feet tall, on an island populated with deadly Komodo Dragons that would have made Smaug jealous! 

The H. Floresiensis version of Sting.
M. W. Moore
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is just the beginning of the tale of these brave hobbits. Even more mysterious than the Elves sailing to the West, somehow H. Floresiensis undertook their own impossible journey to reside on Flores.  It was thought that H. Erectus was the first hominin to leave Africa about 1.5 million years ago, heading north towards East Asia and south through Indonesia over a series of land bridges.  However, the Island of Flores is on the other side of a major geographic barrier to migration known as “Wallace’s Line.” Wallace’s Line is large stretch of open ocean once thought too wide for human ancestors to cross, and was believed to have only been crossed by the more sophisticated Homo Sapiens about 50,000 years ago.  The Hobbits provided yet another twist to the story of human evolution when they were found living comfortably on the other side of Wallace’s Line.  How did they get there?  It remains, and perhaps will stay, a huge mystery. 

Wallace’s Line.
Gunnar Ries
CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Not only was H. Floresiensis clocking in at 3 feet tall, and on the other side of an impossible geographical barrier, incredible archaeological evidence found in the region of Flores indicates that some type of hominin was making stone tools there as far back as 890,000 years!  Yet little Lady Flo’s skeleton dates to only 18,000 years ago, introducing a possibility that these tiny Hobbits, much like their cousins in Middle-Earth, may have coexisted with other groups of hominins, and could possibly even have had passing encounters with Homo Sapiens.  People indigenous to Flores Island have long told tales of a tiny race of hairy people with flat foreheads. Could it be that there are actual folk memories of an early human ancestor? 

An H. Floresiensis with a favorite prey item, the Marabou stork.
I. van Noortwijk
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is so much yet to discover about Homo Floresiensis, and their place in the tale of human evolution.  What we do know for sure is that because of their miniature stature, unbelievable location, and mysterious time frame, these Hobbits are full of surprises, indeed.

An overview of H. Floresiensis:

A Paleoanthropologist discusses the uniqueness and mystery of the Hobbits:

Could modern Pygmy people living on Flores actually be related to H. Floresiensis?

Why is Southeast Asian Paleoanthropology so full of surprises?

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