Two new reports forward the theory that the tiny people who roamed an Indonesian island 8,000 years ago were a separate species of human, the BBC reports, not just pygmy versions of homo sapiens. The biggest clue is the feet of the “hobbits,” which are distinctly primitive but human. Scientists say the 3-foot-tall creatures must have branched off the human line before the modern foot evolved.
The homo floresiensis species appears to descend from a prehistoric human species, like homo erectus, that arrived at the isle more than a million years ago and then shrank, researchers say. The second study, which analyzed small-brained pygmy hippos isolated from mainland ancestors, concludes that the hobbits may have similarly evolved smaller brains—one-third the size of a human’s—in isolation.