700,000-year-old fossils from mini-hominids spark new debate over Homo floresiensis
Kinez Riza, reconstruction by Atelier Elisabeth Daynès
Say hello to hobbits’ possible ancestors. Excavations of fossils from roughly 700,000-year-old hominids on the Indonesian island of Flores have reinvigorated scientific debate over the evolutionary origins and identity of Homo floresiensis, a half-sized member of the human genus — dubbed hobbits — that lived much later on Flores.
Remains of at least three individuals found at a central Flores site, called Mata Menge, probably represent early versions of H. floresiensis, says a team led by paleontologist Gerrit van den Bergh of the University of Wollongong in Australia and Japanese biological anthropologist Yousuke Kaifu. A lower-jaw fragment and six teeth excavated in 2014 come from hominids that were about as small as hobbits. These fossils look enough like hobbit jaws and teeth to be assigned provisionally to H. floresiensis, the researchers conclude in the June 9 Nature.