Science Friday: U of Minn. professor determines Hobbits are new species

Hobbits did exist. Just ask University of Minnesota anthropology professor Kieran McNulty. He's been studying the skulls of the so-called "Hobbit fossilized skull" discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. 

In his latest research with colleague Karen Baab of Stony Brook University in New York, McNulty has concluded that these 3-foot-tall creatures are a new species in humanity's family tree. McNulty says their research show that the Hobbits closely resembled humans in their body proportions, but were simply much shorter. 

Their study was published online this month in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Researchers have only uncovered one skull to research, but have found the skeletal remains of 12 total on the island in a single cave, he says. McNulty believes the small creatures died off 12,000 years ago after a large eruption, but could have existed for 83,000 years before that. Their years of existence mean they coexisted on earth with modern humans. 

McNulty used 3D models to compare the skull to a simulated fossil human of similar height to modern humans. McNulty says they can be classified as a fossil human species rather than a modern human species.

According to BrightSurf:

Comparing the simulation to the original Flores skull discovered in 2003, McNulty and Baab were able to demonstrate conclusively that the original 'hobbit' skull fits the expectations for a small fossil hominin species and not a modern human." 

The results of the study suggest that the theorized "hobbit" species may have undergone a process of size reduction after branching off from Homo erectus (one of modern day humanity's distant ancestors) or even something more primitive.

McNulty says the next step in the research of the Flores Hobbits is to use the recent discoveries to help scientists determine how these people came to the island and who they might be related to. 

We can thank J.R.R. Tolkien for coining the name, which has now been used to describe this latest species of human. No word yet if they had a love for pipe-weed or wore the stylish green velvet breeches, red waistcoats and green hood and cloaks.

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