Homo floresiansis was a diminutive early human standing only three feet and six inches tall that lived on the island of Flores in Indonesia between 700,000 and 60,000 years ago. Due to its stature and physical resemblance to the creatures described by famous writer J.R.R. Tolkien in his novels, it was nicknamed “the Hobbit.”
The discovery of this early hominid’s fossils in 2003 in the Liang Bua cave in Flores has shattered long-held beliefs that the Neanderthals were our nearest ancestors. “I would have been less surprised if someone had uncovered an alien,” said paleoanthropologist Peter Brown, a professor at the University of New England, Australia.
Although scientists concluded that this species went extinct 12,000 years ago, Gregory Forth, an anthropologist retired from the University of Alberta in Canada has recently argued that no one really knows if this fascinating hominid actually went extinct or is in fact still roaming today’s Indonesia.
In his new book Between Ape and Human: An Anthropologist on the Trail of a Hidden Hominid, Professor Forth claims that over 30 eye-witness reports of an “ape-man” on the island of Flores may be sightings of this ancient ancestor, somehow still surviving in the modern world. “I conclude that the best way to explain what they told me is that a non-sapiens hominid has survived on Flores to the present or very recent times.”
The last recorded sighting dates from 2017, when a 40-year-old woman on Flores claimed that she saw an “ape-man” crossing a field. Although the creature stopped and looked at her, it didn’t seem threatening. “The woman had a daughter, around seven or eight years old,” said Professor Forth. “The daughter spotted this strange creature sitting just beyond the garden by a pile of rocks. She was screaming, and a dog was barking at it. The man got there first, and the mother and girl were crying. All three of them saw it. But they didn’t stick around, they ran all the way home.”
Since the separate accounts “all agreed on the particulars” and all the witnesses appeared extremely frightened when recounting the story, Professor Forth considers them as reliable sources. Previous accounts of such sightings also seem to confirm the existence of such strange creatures roaming Flores.
However, other scientists remain skeptical that another species of “Homo” still exists today. “The habitat is right, the eyewitness evidence is good, and there are known candidates from the fossil record that sound pretty similar to the creatures sometimes being described,” said Dr. Darren Naish, a paleozoologist and former lecturer at the University of Southampton. “But we still require solid biological samples to demonstrate the reality of this animal.”
Other experts are even more critical of Professor Forth’s account. “Realistically, the idea that there’s a large primate that is unobserved on this island and surviving in a population that can sustain itself is pretty close to zero,” said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Further field trips and investigations are needed in order to assess Professor Forth’s claims and solve this mystery.