With the discovery of a tooth here or a bone fragment there, archaeologists piece together the history of humanity – and a recent discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores provides new insight into human evolution. The teeth and mandible belong to a tiny 3-foot-tall hominin species many have nicknamed ‘Hobbits.’

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Archaeologists first discovered these Hobbits, or Homo floresiensis, back in 2004 in the Liang Bua cave on western Flores. At that time the fossils created more questions than answers. Did they evolve from Homo erectus, or from other smaller hominins such as Homo habilis or Australopithecus? They appear to have been small, with small brains, leading some to think they didn’t evolve from Homo erectus at all.

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In 2014, archaeologists discovered new Hobbit fossils at Mata Menge, about 30 miles east of Liang Bua on Flores in an older layer of rock. This month, the journal Nature published their findings. The six teeth from at least three individuals and one mandible fragment they found reveals the Hobbits likely did evolve from Homo erectus.

If that is the case, then the Hobbits’ bodies and brains shrunk. The archaeologists say it would have been an “evolutionary reversal.” The Hobbits had small brains about the size of a chimpanzee’s, according to Gerrit van den Bergh, lead author on the recently published paper. However, they showed signs of sophistication and walked upright. As one explanation, the archaeologists speculate that since they lived on an island, perhaps they didn’t require large brains.

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In a video for Nature, Van den Bergh said, “Maybe they didn’t need such a big brain, because a brain is a very expensive organ, and maybe a smaller brain might work as well here in an island setting. But what is clear is that they made stone tools so they were not stupid.”

The fossils uncovered date to about 700,000 years ago and were older than the Liang Bua fossils.

Via ABC News

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