Six years ago, archaeologists digging in Liang Bua Cave on the Indonesian island of Flores made one of the most shocking and controversial discoveries in scientific history. They found a brilliantly preserved, one metre-high skeleton which would soon be known as Homo floresiensis – or the Hobbit, as it has become affectionately known. Some were gobsmacked by the find, believing it to throw open the theory of evolution; others scoffed, believing it to be nothing more than a human being struck by a deformity known as microcephaly. Many believe the hobbit to have lived as late as 12,000 years ago, and a new paper hopes to prove this monumental paradigm correct. Debbie Argue, a PhD student from the Australian National University (ANU)’s Archaeology and Anthropology, has been comparing bone fragments of the Hobbit with other hominids, and believes that its inception overlapped with the emergence of our own species, Homo sapiens. This would shatter conventional wisdom, which says that we were the only hominids left on the planet following the demise of Homo erectus and the Neanderthals.
The aptly-named Ms Argue has had her contentious work published in the Journal of Human Evolution, and tells Australia’s ABC News she believes the paper to be a paradigm shift in the field: “We compared (the Hobbits) with almost every species in our genus, as well as Australopithecine, which was a genus before Homo evolved. Of course, we included Homo Sapiens. We discovered that Homo floresiensis ranged off the family tree almost at the beginning of the evolution of our genus, Homo. So that would have been over two million years ago, and as such a very, very primitive being.” Ms Argue is cautious about the proof of her work, but is confident it blows apart existing theories on the evolution of man. “This is science, so maybe [it’s] not the definitive proof but a very, very solid hypothesis,” she said. “This is the first time such a huge and comprehensive set of characteristics about the whole of the body of Homo floresiensis has been but into one analysis. This means that something very, very primitive came out of Africa.
“Previous to this we thought that what came out of Africa had modern body proportions and an expanded brain case, but this is a much more primitive being,” Ms Argue adds. “We know that Homo floresiensis was, in Flores at least, from 100,000 years ago to about 12,000 years ago. And at that time, or at least from 40,000 years ago, we had modern humans in Asia and New Guinea and Australia. So here we were sharing the planet where we thought we’d been the only people that survived after the end of the Neanderthals.”