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The Eras of Hobbits and Humans May Not Have Overlapped

Did Hobbits and Humans live together?

Hobbits did exist, not the fictional characters depicted by Tolkien but a small human-like species, Homo floresiensis. The skeletal remains of this type of hobbit were discovered in the Pleistocene sediments in caves of Lian Bua, Indonesia in 2003. Only recently have scientists concluded whether they lived in the same period as modern humans, Homo sapiens.

Comparison of Hobbit and Human Skulls

Comparison of Hobbit and Human Skulls

Previous findings placed hobbit fossils at about 12,000-100,000 years old, suggesting that they lived during the same period as humans, who arrived in Australia and Indonesia around 50,000 years ago.

New research contradicts these earlier findings. These creatures with the brain the size of a grapefruit, who stood around three-feet tall, were thought to have existed 12,000 years ago.

While excavating sediment around the skeletons of the hobbits, initial research did not take into account the steep slope of the site, thinking that the newer sediment on top was level land and dating the remains based on this assumption.

Matthew Tocheri, a paleoanthropologist at Lakehead University in Toronto and study co-lead, who was not part of the original excavation team but an observer, realized that these assumptions were wrong and set out to right them. He says,

This was a pretty big deal among the team. It was a big struggle. It took about three years before even a majority of the team was beginning to be convinced of what was going on.

Erring on the side of caution, an established, more accurate study was conducted. It was determined to use multiple sediment samples and multiple techniques to accurately date the skeletal remains at the site. Most of the methods used were not invented until after 2004.

The actual bones were put through uranium series dating that placed the remains between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago. Infrared tuminescence dating placed them around the same time period. Older techniques, such as carbon dating and argon-argon dating were also used. All tests drew closely similar conclusions.

Recreation of the Hobbit

Recreation of the Hobbit

Thus, the hobbit species went extinct prior to the arrival of modern humans. Possible causes of the hobbits’ extinction may be the arrival of said humans, volcanic eruptions or climate change. What is interesting is that other species vanished around the same time as the hobbits: vultures, giant marabou storks, komodo dragons and pygmy Stegadons.

Richard “Bert” Roberts, a geochronologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia says,

This long period of overlap was always a puzzle to us, as extinctions seem to follow hot on the heels of modern human, when they arrive somewhere new. There was no lengthy period of overlap between the two species as far as we can determine.

Tocheri says,

There were lots of different kinds of hominin species and some of them shared this planet at the same time as us. But all of these other hominins have gone extinct, and we modern humans are the only ones left. We need to better understand why they went extinct and we survived in order to make better decisions as a species for how we take care of our planet and each other for the future.

Will another species someday make the same discoveries about us?