They were only as big as the fantasy creatures from “The Lord of the Rings”: Once on the Indonesian island Flores lived the mysterious “hobbit-people”. But is it still possible in some ways? Through genetic analysis, anthropologists have now pursued the question of whether today’s short-lived inhabitants of the island carry the genetic heritage of Homo floresiensis in itself. They come to the conclusion: The “Flores Pygmies” are not heirs of the hobbits. Their dwarfism is the phenomenon of island dwarfing.
By comparison, the average size of a modern Indonesian, a modern pygmy of the island of Flores, and a homo floresiensis. (Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Serena Tucci, Department of Ecologyand Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University)
A hit that made headlines: in 2004, anthropologists reported the remains of an unknown human form from the island of Flores, which was quickly given the nickname “Hobbit” because of its strange features. According to research, these human beings were only about a meter tall and had archaic features. Dates suggest that these hobbit humans lived on the island until about 60,000 years ago. Initially, the fund caused a lot of controversy among anthropologists. It seemed unclear if it was really a new species from the genus Homo. Meanwhile, this is considered confirmed – they gave the hobbits the name Homo floresiensis.
But the hobbits still give anthropologists many puzzles. It remains unclear how they fit into the human pedigree, and whether they may have left genetic heritage in humans today – as has been proven by the Neanderthals and Denisovans. Above all, one aspect pushes this question downright: there are still on the island of Flores natives, who are also strikingly short-lived – they are only about 1.45 meters tall. Are these “Flores Pygmies” the heirs of the hobbits?
No trace of hobbit DNA
To investigate this question, the researchers around Serena Tucci of Princeton University have now carried out genetic analyzes. Thirty-two Flores pygmies have donated their genetic material to the scientists. The individuals come from a village near the Liang Bua Cave, where the Hobbit fossils were discovered in 2004. However, there was a problem with the study: comparison material does not exist. In contrast to fossils of Neanderthals, scientists from the remains of Homo floresiensis could not gain DNA. Tucci and her colleagues have therefore searched indirectly for traces of hobbit DNA in the genome of the Flores pygmies. As you explain, there are indications in the genetic material that allow conclusions about