Cosmos - - Special Feature - CREDIT: MAURI­CIO AN­TON / GETTY IMAGES

Homo flo­re­sien­sis, a one-me­tre tall early hu­man that lived on the In­done­sian is­land of Flores 60,000 to 100,000 years ago, seemed a likely de­scen­dent of Homo erec­tus in Asia. How­ever, a re­cent anal­y­sis of the species – also known as “Flores Man” or “the Hob­bit” – in­di­cates he evolved from a much more ar­chaic species, prob­a­bly Homo ha­bilis. ( See Di­gest, page 13.) This raises the prospect that Homo erec­tus was not the first early hu­man to have ven­tured out of Africa. Ei­ther Homo flo­re­sien­sis or one of his fore­bears – per­haps even Homo ha­bilis – also made the jour­ney.

By about a mil­lion years ago, Flores was home to these ven­tur­ers. Older flo­re­sien­sis- like fos­sils, from a dif­fer­ent site on Flores, date to 700,000 years ago, and stone tools on the is­land to one mil­lion years ago.

Teeth from Homo sapi­ens that date to 46,000 years ago have also been found in the Hob­bit caves, which sug­gests that the two species might have co-ex­isted for a time – per­haps am­i­ca­bly, per­haps not. Given the slightly younger age of the teeth, it is pos­si­ble the ar­rival of Homo sapi­ens tolled the death knell for Homo flo­re­sien­sis.

Homo flo­ren­sis: The re­mains of this ho­minid were found in 2003 at the Liang Bua Cave on the is­land of Flores, In­done­sia.

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