Researchers have discovered two teeth of Homo sapiens in the same cave where the remains of the mysterious “hobbit” people were found back in 2003, suggesting that modern humans may have cohabited with these strange diminutive hominids, and perhaps even contributed to their extinction.
Known as Homo floresiensis, the species lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until they died out around 50,000 years ago, with adults growing to a height of around 1 meter (3 feet). Though modern humans are known to have lived in Southeast Asia at that time, it has never been confirmed whether or not they were present on this particular island in time to meet the hobbits.
However, at the recent annual meeting of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution, researchers revealed that an upper premolar and lower molar bearing all the hallmarks of human teeth and dated to about 46,000 years ago have been found in the Liang Bua cave, where Homo floresiensis once lived.
Though this doesn’t quite confirm that humans co-existed with these petite creatures, it does suggest that Homo sapiens were present in the region very shortly after their demise. As such, it becomes increasingly likely that modern humans were around when Homo floresiensis disappeared, which in turn opens up the possibility that competition between the two species may have pushed the latter to extinction.
While this discovery may lead scientists one step closer to figuring out how the little people met their end, their origin is still shrouded in mystery. Theories on this subject vary wildly, with some suggesting Homo floresiensis came into being as a result of insular dwarfism, whereby island-dwelling species become progressively smaller, while others support the idea that they may have actually been descended from other hominids such as Homo erectus.