A new study revealed the 3-foot-tall Homo floresiensis was in fact a separate species from the much bigger Homo erectus and actually originated in Africa.
The research, carried out by the Australian National University (ANU), traced the early hominids back to their roots and uncovered that the two species don't share an evolutionary lineage as previously thought.
According to an ANU news release, the Indonesian "hobbit" is "most likely a sister species of Homo habilis — one of the earliest known species of human found in Africa 1.75 million years ago."
The research shows no possible evolutionary connection between Homo floresiensis and Homo erectus, "the only other early hominid known to have lived in the region."
Popular Theories On Homo Floresiensis Evolution
The tiny hominid species — which stood only 3 feet tall, hence the "hobbit" moniker — was first discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia in 2003.
Scientists estimate the early hominids arrived here some 100,000 years ago, traveling by raft, and survived until just 54,000 years ago.
Although known for more than a decade, the hominid's evolutionary history remained open to debate, at least until now.
The most popular evolution theory regarding the Indonesian "hobbit" deemed the tiny hominid to be derived from Asian Homo erectus — which was believed to have shrunk in body size after settling on Flores to survive the new island environment.
Another hypothesis suggests that Homo floresiensis is directly descended from an early Homo lineage originated in Africa, such as Homo habilis.
Other scientists indicate the tiny hominid is a malformed version of Homo sapiens and attribute the distinctive features that differentiate them to pathological causes, such as the Down syndrome.
Confirmed African Origins
The new study published in the Journal of Human Evolution, explored all three theories and found evidence that supports the hominid's African origin.
The data indicates Homo floresiensis was in fact far more primitive than Homo erectus and had characteristics more similar to Homo habilis, the most ancient representative of the human genus.
"The analyses show that on the family tree, Homo floresiensis was likely a sister species of Homo habilis. It means these two shared a common ancestor," said Dr. Debbie Argue, research lead author from the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology.
"It's possible that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or the common ancestor moved from Africa then evolved into Homo floresiensis somewhere," added Dr. Argue
Fossils Show Indonesian 'Hobbit' Not Related To Homo Erectus
To reach their conclusions, the researchers traveled to several countries, even in Africa and Europe, to collect 133 samples of "crania, mandibles, dentition, and postcrania of Homo and Australopithecus," from both ancient and more modern species.
The university states this is the most comprehensive study of Homo floresiensis fossils. The research involved the species' entire fossil record, totaling several hundred bones from at least nine specimens.
Unlike previous studies of hobbit bones focused exclusively on skull and jaw fossils, the ANU research compared the skull, jaws, teeth, arms, legs, and shoulders of the Indonesian "hobbit" to those of Homo erectus.
The comparative analysis uncovered the two species had completely different bone structures, particularly in the jaw and pelvis.
Using modern methods of statistical modeling to analyze the data, the researchers determined there is a 99 percent chance the two species are unrelated. Furthermore, they established with almost 100 percent surety the Indonesian "hobbit" is not a malformed Homo sapiens.
"A close relationship between Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis is rejected, which contradicts the proposal that island dwarfing of Asian Homo erectus led to Homo floresiensis," the study concluded.