"Hobbits" Had Million-Year History on Island?
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Posted 22 March 2010 - 10:57 AM
Newfound stone tools suggest the evolutionary history of the "hobbits" on the Indonesian island of Flores stretches back a million years, a new study says—200,000 years longer than previously thought.
The hobbit mystery was sparked by the 2004 discovery of bones on Flores that belonged to a three-foot-tall (one-meter-tall), 55-pound (25-kilogram) female with a grapefruit-size brain.
The tiny, hobbit-like creature—controversially dubbed a new human species, Homo floresiensis—persisted on the remote island until about 18,000 years ago, even as "modern" humans spread around the world, experts say.
Found in million-year-old volcanic sediments, the newly discovered tools are "simple sharp-edged flakes" like those found at nearby sites on Flores—sites dated to later time periods but also associated with hobbits and their ancestors—said study co-leader Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia, via e-mail.
The finding implies that a culture of stone tool wielding ancient humans, with origins in Africa, survived on the island for much longer than previously believed, according to the new research, published online today by the journal Nature.
"That's exciting," because it suggests that by a million years ago, early humans had covered more ground on their exodus from Africa than previously thought, said paleontologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum of London, who wasn't involved in the new study.
Hobbit Ancestors off the Hook?
The stone-and-bone record had suggested that the hobbits' ancestors—perhaps upright-walking-but-small-brained Homo erectus—left Africa about 1.5 million years ago and reached Flores by 880,000 years ago.
Once there, it's been thought, the hobbit ancestors quickly hunted a pygmy elephant species and a giant tortoise species to extinction.
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