Recently discovered fossils in Indonesia show that the so-called “hobbit” hominin that lived 50,000 years ago had much older ancestors.
Writing in the journal Nature, researchers from the Research Center of Human Evolution at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, say the 700,000-year-old teeth and jawbone fragment are either from hobbits or a precursor to the .9-meter-tall hobbits.
The fragments indicate the creature was about the same size as its much younger counterpart.
The fossils were found in 2014 about 74 kilometers from the cave where the original hobbit fossils were discovered more than a decade ago.
Hobbits, also called Homo floresiensis, are believed to have hit an evolutionary cul-de-sac about 50,000 years ago.
The recently found fossils belong to an adult and two children from a bigger species that came to Flores island about a million years ago.
Then, the creature began to shrink over the following generations in a process called “island dwarfism.” Island dwarfism is well-known among animals, with some cases seeing a sixfold decrease in size because of a lack of resources.
In fact, Flores was once home to a very small elephant-like creature.
The finding puts to rest the notion that hobbits were simply sick or malnourished homo sapiens.
"The hobbit was real," said Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at the Research Center of Human Evolution and lead author of one of the studies, in an interview with AFP. "It was an ancient human species that is separate to ours and that no longer exists on the planet today."
The new fossils could help researchers determine what the older species was and how long it took for that creature to shrink to the size of the hobbits.
One possibility is that hobbits are a dwarfed version of homo erectus, the first hominin to leave Africa.