By David Mark for AM
Posted Sun Aug 2, 2009 12:01pm AEST
Updated Sun Aug 2, 2009 12:17pm AEST
They were just one metre tall with very long arms, no chins, wrist bones like gorillas and extremely long feet.
In 2003, archaeologists excavating in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores made a discovery that forced scientists to completely rethink conventional theories of human evolution.
They reported the discovery of a new species of human, one that lived as recently as 12,000 years ago, at the same time as modern humans.
But others disagreed, arguing the one-metre-high skeleton was a modern human that suffered from a deformity known as microcephaly.
The debate has raged ever since. But Debbie Argue, a PhD student from the ANU's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, believes she has settled the question by comparing bone fragments from the hobbits to other hominids.
"We compared them to almost every species in our genus, as well as Australopithecine, which was a genus before Homo evolved," Ms Argue said.
"Of course, we included Homo sapiens.
"We discovered that Homo floresiensis ranged off the family tree almost at the beginning of the evolution of our genus, Homo.
"So that would have been over two million years ago, and as such a very, very primitive being."
Ms Argue's work was published recently in the Journal of Human Evolution.
She describes the work as a paradigm shift in archaeology, overturning the notion that Homo sapiens were the only hominids on the planet after the extinction of Homo erectus and the Neanderthals.
"This is science, so maybe [it's] not the definitive proof but a very, very solid hypothesis," she said.
"This is the first time such a huge and comprehensive set of characteristics about the whole of the body of Homo floresiensis has been but into one analysis."
Ms Argue says her work challenges another major cornerstone in the theory of human evolution.
"This means that something very, very primitive came out of Africa," she said.
"Previous to this we thought that what came out of Africa had modern body proportions and an expanded brain case, but this is a much more primitive being.
"We know that Homo floresiensis was, in Flores at least, from 100,000 years ago to about 12,000 years ago. And at that time, or at least from 40,000 years ago, we had modern humans in Asia and New Guinea and Australia.
"So here we were sharing the planet where we thought we'd been the only people that survived after the end of the Neanderthals."
Digitally Implanted by Mme.BlueWolfess at 7:15 AM