The 700,000-year-old human remains are the first found outside Liang Bua cave, the site on Flores that yielded the original hobbit fossils. The much older samples show intriguing similarities to H. floresiensis, including their small size, and so provide the best evidence yet of a potential hobbit ancestor.
“Since the hobbit was found, there have been two major hypotheses concerning its ancestry,” says Gerritt van den Bergh, an archaeologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia and a contributor to the work.
According to one theory, H. floresiensis is a dwarfed form of Homo erectus, an ancient human relative that lived in East Asia and parts of Africa until about 143,000 years ago. But other researchers think the hobbits evolved from even earlier, smaller-bodied hominins such as Homo habilis or Australopithecus.
The article goes on to note that the competing argument, that the fossils of Liang Bua represent some kind of pathological condition, and that they maintained this condition for some 700 ky, is now untenable. Clearly this is a side-branch of human evolution.The other key finding is that they also had stone tools, specifically a “straightforward core and flake” technology. Further, the tools show a striking similarity to those found at Liang Bua, suggesting that there was remarkable cognitive "stability" in this population.“These new findings suggest that Homo floresiensis is indeed a dwarfed form of Homo erectus from Java, a small group of which must have gotten marooned on Flores and evolved in isolation,” van den Bergh says.
The more we think we know about human evolution, the less, it turns out, that we do. For now, the entire article is available from Nature for free here.