"Hobbits" might have descended from first tiny humans to leave Africa

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Canberra, June 16 : A new analysis of "hobbits", an extinct race of tiny hominids, has suggested that they descended from the first tiny humans to leave Africa, and this might have happened some 2.25 million years ago.

According to a report in Life Scientist, Homo floresiensis, which were dubbed as "hobbits", were discovered in a cave on Flores, one of the most easterly islands of the Indonesian archipelago.

The tiny skulls of the Flores fossils ignited a heated debate about whether they represented a new species of humans, or were merely microcephalic mutants of a Floresian form of Homo erectus, or even a microcephalic Homo sapiens.

But a new cladistic analysis by an Australian National University student has suggested that the diminutive, gracile humans, who lived on Flores as recently as 12,000 years ago, might not have been dwarfed by insular life.

Debbie Argue, of the Australian National University's School of Archaeology and Anthropology, has produced strong evidence that Homo floresiensis was tiny because its African ancestors were tiny.

If Argue is right, H. floresiensis descends from the first hominins to leave Africa, and this might have happened some 2.25 million years ago, around the time when the first, primitive Homo species was emerging in Africa.

If so, the hobbits' forebears could have colonised the Indonesian archipelago up to half a million years before the first large hominin species, Homo erectus - Java Man - crossed the deepwater gaps separating Java and Lombok, and Sumbawa and Flores, by means that did not involve swimming.

For her research, Argue compared anatomical structures of the type specimen of H. floresiensis, LB1, with several modern humans, and many ancient hominins such as H. erectus, H. ergaster, H. habilis, and the Dmanisi specimens.

What they found was that H. floresiensis had long arms in proportion to its legs, and is close to the primitive arm-to-leg ratio of the gracile australopithecine, Australopithecus garhi.

"Floresiensis seems to have evolved around the time of A. garhi, given its primitive arm-leg ratio, whereas H. habilis was moving towards the modern human ratio around the same time," said Argue.

"If we're right, it means some hominin must have moved out of Africa about two million years ago, which is half a million years earlier than the Dmanisi hominin, which is supposedly the earliest out of Africa," she added.

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