In A Nutshell
In 2003, archaeologists began to discover a series of hominid skeletons on the island of Flores in Indonesia. The skeletons suggest these hobbits averaged 1 meter (3.3 ft) in height and weighed in at roughly 35 kilograms (77 lbs). They were found near tools sized appropriately to their bodies and hands, meaning that they may have had complex brains and may be part of our own family tree.
The Whole Bushel
The isolation of islands and island chains is often responsible for creating unique ecosystems. Many plant and animal species that thrive on individual islands exist nowhere else in the world. Evolution on islands takes a slightly different path than on large land masses, and unique adaptations are completely normal for these islands.
Due to the limited resources on islands, over time, native species can shrink in size due to a phenomenon known as “island dwarfism.” This adaptation allows the species to thrive with a smaller caloric intake, less water and shelter, etc. While researching the migration of ancient humans on the island of Flores in 2003, paleoarchaeologists discovered a nearly intact humanoid skeleton. The skeleton was officially named LB1 after the cave she was found buried in and was affectionately called Flo. Flo’s skeleton suggested she stood about 1.1 meters (3.6 ft). At first, the skeleton was thought to be a dwarf or an individual with microcephaly (a condition that causes small features, especially in the subject’s skull). But after more skeletons (full and partial) were unearthed, it became clear that an entire population on the island bore the diminutive stature.
It is estimated that Homo floresiensis, as it is now known, lived 17,000–95,000 years ago. Skeptics were convinced that the specimens were actually another species that adapted to island life, but after comparing brain size, bone structure, and tool use, it is now understood to be a unique species. Additionally, some claimed that their tiny brains meant they wouldn’t be able to make and use tools like hominids found in other parts of the world. Analysis of stone tools found alongside the skeletons reveals that the hobbits used similar tools to contemporary hominids.
While being a smaller creature affords a better chance at getting enough nutrition, it seems as if Flo and her island mates had to deal with much larger issues. Stegodons are an extinct elephant-like animal that inhabited Flores and surrounding islands. Unlike their hominid counterparts, stegodons didn’t suffer from island dwarfism. Stegodon bones have been found alongside hobbit bones and tools, suggesting the tiny tykes may have hunted the massive beasts. In addition, large reptiles similar to komodo dragons appear to have been both predator and prey for the hobbits.
There is no word on whether the Flores hobbits had large hairy feet and an affinity for rings.