So did the hobbits and the giant storks live in peaceful harmony, or did they try to kill each other?
On the island of Flores, the same place where controversial evidence of the tiny ancient hominid Homo floresiensis turned up in 2003, scientists found large leg bones in a cave. A new analysis of those bones published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society indicates that they belong to giant storks taller than any alive today, capable of towering over the Homo floresiensis “hobbits.”
“From the size of its bones, we initially were expecting a giant raptor, which are commonly found on islands, not a stork,” said Hanneke Meijer, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The carnivorous giant (Leptoptilos robustus) was a hitherto unknown species of marabou stork, among the largest birds alive on the planet. [MSNBC]
At about 6 feet in height, the great stork would have stood nearly twice the height of H. floresiensis individuals, who reached just about three and a half feet tall. And like many other over-sized birds, the stork likely wasn’t the flying type. Says Meijer:
“Fly? Not very well, I think. They wouldn’t have gone very far if they could even get off the ground. But I don’t think they needed to fly. They were the top predator of that ecosystem.” [Toronto Star]
Anthropologists have conducted a new analysis of skulls from the so-called “hobbit” fossils found in an Indonesian cave in 2003, and say their results add more evidence that the fossils come from a hitherto unknown race of tiny people. The researchers compared the hobbit skulls to those of modern humans and apes, as well as the fossil brain cases of early human ancestors. “The shape of the skull is consistent with what we would expect for a small archaic Homo,” said Karen Baab [National Geographic News], lead author of the new study.
When paleontologists unearthed a cluster of strange, hominid skeletons on the island of Flores, they had little idea that they were about to start a fierce debate that would divide the field of anthropology. But soon the researchers declared that the 18,000-year-old fossils came from people who were only three feet tall, and who were actually a different species of hominid, which researchers called Homo floresiensis. “These hobbits – hominids – appear to have survived when modern humans were all over the Earth at this time,” Baab said [The Guardian]. Since then, debate has raged over whether the hobbits were indeed an unknown species, or whether the individuals found in the cave were just modern humans with a disease that stunted their growth and gave them small brains, a condition called microcephaly.