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Hobbits vs. Humans: Bigger Brains Than Once Thought

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First Posted: Apr 17, 2013 04:10 PM EDT
One hemisphere of a healthy brain (L) is pictured next to one hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease, at the Morphological unit of psychopathology in the Neuropsychiatry division of the Belle Idee University Hospital in Chene-Bourg near Geneva March 14, 2011.

One hemisphere of a healthy brain (L) is pictured next to one hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease, at the Morphological unit of psychopathology in the Neuropsychiatry division of the Belle Idee University Hospital in Chene-Bourg near Geneva March 14, 2011. Credit:Reuters

Ancient humans that bear a resemblance to the fictional hobbit creatures apparently had bigger brains than we previously gave them credit for.

The species known as Homo floresiensis was previously thought to have a brain volume of 400 cc, but it was actually 426 cc, bringing their brain size to roughly the same as a chimpanzee. That is, compared to about 1500 cc we currently have as Homo sapiens.

Researchers determined the larger brain size with a high-definition CT scanner.

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The remnants of the "hobbits" were discovered on the island of Flores, part of Indonesia, in 2003.

The individuals were roughly three and a half feet tall, and had short legs when compared to their arms and feet.

Researchers in Japan say that these new findings strengthen the theory that the species evolved from Homo erectus, one of our most prominent anscestors.

“We conclude that evolution from early Javanese H. erectus to H. floresiensis was possible in terms of brain size,” Yousuke Kaifu, a researcher on the project, said.

Kaifu and his fellow researchers believe that Homo erectus somehow got onto the island of Flores, and could not get off.

"[The species’] unique evolution suggests they did not go out of the island once they got there,” Kaifu said to Discovery News.

Homo floresiensis is believed to have died out and became extinct roughly 12,000 years ago.

The term hobbit refers to a fictional species of short, humanoid creatures that first appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and eventually The Lord of the Rings. Both works would go on to become major movie blockbusters, with two more films based on The Hobbit still on the way.

In the novels, Tolkien describes them as between two and four feet tall.

With Homo floresiensis falling within that range, and with their discovery coinciding with the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in theaters, it made sense that the term hobbit was linked to Homo floresiensis.

With the newly discovered larger brains leading to the theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from Homo erectus, the hobbits are closer to us than ever.

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