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Mar 25, 2017 02:57 AM EDT

Hobbit Bones Inspires Free Online College Course

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In 2003, a joint Indonesian-Australian research team found a nearly complete female skeleton that lived about 80,000 years ago in Liang Bua cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia.

The skeleton now called LB-1 was first thought of as belonging to a child, but a closer examination found it to be that of an adult, a tiny human. Because of its unique traits such as its small body and brain led scientists to assign the skeleton as a new species Homo Floresiensis, named after the island where it was discovered.

LB-1's tiny build earned it the nickname of "The Hobbit," after the tiny folk in J.R.R. Tolkien's book of the same name. Approximately, LB-1 is three feet and six inches tall and weighing 66 pounds. They probably also had hairy feet.

Initial dating of the species remains gave the hobbit an age range of 74,000 to 17,000 years ago. However, there is a reason to suggest that Homo Floresiensis might have lived as early as 95,000 years ago until about 12,000 years ago based on tools and sediment deposits where the skeletal remains from a never-before-seen hominin species were discovered, whose diminutive size led them to nickname them "hobbits." An updated dating analysis suggested they were older, dating as far as 100,000 to 60,000.

Richard Roberts, a geochronologist who was on the dig believed the hobbits have had no chins, had tiny brains, with large teeth, also they are likely to have been wiped out by the humans who migrated into that region about 50,000 years ago. Roberts compared the scenario similar to that of the vanishing of Neanderthals when modern humans migrated into Europe. Accordingly, the timestamps on the discovered fossils sort of a smoking gun, but they have not found the bullet yet.

Homo Floresiensis biology is so intriguing that it inspired scientists to design a new, free online course that gives anyone an opportunity to examine LB-1 for himself or herself. Wannabe scientists can learn all they can about the hobbits from the comfort of their own homes.

Accordingly, the online course offered by the Australia's University of Wollongong lasts for four weeks and each week consists of two hours of class. The course objectives include the "evolutionary implications of the discovery" as well as reflecting on how the hobbits fit into the evolutionary story of modern humans.

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