Designing From Bones – The Land of the Hobbits

Welcome to Designing from Bones, where we use archaeology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories.

Come close friends and follow me through the misty portal to the Indonesian Island of Flores, a wondrous land once ruled by hobbits and fanciful creatures.

Hobbit History

Little Lady of Flores - Flo

In 2003, a team of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists searching the migration patterns of early Homo Sapiens stumbled upon the complete skeleton of a three-and-a-half foot tall hominid (human-like creature) that defied identification. Now known as the Little Lady of Flores (a.k.a. “Flo”), this 30-year-old female and the eight other hobbits found near her remain an enigma.

While there are many theories as to where these creatures originated and what made them the way they were, the strongest belief is that the Hobbits of Flores are descended from an early human species known as Homo Erectus that dominated the planet a million years ago. Stranded on the island, with limited available food, these human progenitors evolved into their own sub-species through a process known as insular (or “island”) dwarfism, shrinking in size to reduce energy needs.

The Island of Flores

It is believed that Homo Erectus arrived at the island approximately one million years ago while the Hobbits inhabited the island between 95,000 to 12,000 years ago. A massive volcanic eruption rocked the island 12,000 years ago, decimating the Hobbits societal cohesion and causing them to disperse.

Myths among the modern inhabitants of the island speak of a diminutive people known as the Ebu Gogo and suggest that the hobbits may have continued to exist on Flores until the late 19th century. Rumors also tell of a halfling race on Sumatra known as the Orang Pendek and some scientists theorize that hobbits may yet exist deep in the unexplored jungles of Indonesia.

Hobbit Culture/World

The Floresian Hobbits differed from modern humans in that they had no chin and reached an average height of three-and-a-half feet tall. They also sported unusually long, flat feet with a short big toe making walking difficult and slow. These were not sprinters. This feature forced the hobbits to hunt as a team in order to take down their prey. It seems apparent that due to their physical limitations, the hobbits developed a strong sense of community with reliance on the group rather than the individual.

Living alongside the hobbits were giant rats, komodo dragons (and even larger lizards) but their favorite prey was the Stegodon. Hunting these now extinct pygmy elephants would have required the entire tribe to work together while rewarding the effort with ample meat for an extended period of time.

Hobbit Home - Liang Bua Cave

The hobbits territory centered around the massive Liang Bua Cave on the Island of Flores. The gaping maw of this stalactite-ridden limestone cave must have been an impressive sight to these small natives, like living in the mouth of a mighty giant. Liang Bua is the only location where the hobbits remains have been found, all within its 50 meter deep interior.

Homo Floresiensis (the hobbits official name) made sophisticated stone tools similar to those used by Homo Erectus, only designed to work with the halflings smaller size. The hobbits also used fire, their small brain size having little impact on their innovation and skills. It is possible that the ability to make tools and use fire was passed down from their Homo Erectus ancestors rather than by their own invention, but we will never know.

Using Hobbits in Story

The history of the Hobbits of Flores ignites the imagination in a host of ways. Let’s take a look at a few of the possibilities.

The hobbits lend themselves well to fantasy. What if these creatures inhabited an island, steeped in myth and rumored to be the location of a powerful magic, a hermit mage or a vast treasure? What if finding each of these things was dependent on how the hero treated the hobbits? Being that they are a social race, what interesting culture could be introduced to thrill the reader? Unknown rituals? Customs? Habits?

More interested in science fiction? What if our hero arrived on a new world and these were the first inhabitants he met? Do they sit on a valuable resource as the Na’vi in Avatar? Will the hero “go native” and join in their simple way of life or will he see them as vermin to be removed, or both?

Hobbits hunting for dinner.

What if a species similar to the Hobbits of Flores existed deep in the jungles of Indonesia waiting to be discovered by our heroine as she searches for oil or mineral deposits? How would a modern human respond to them or they to her? Would our hero fight to protect them, conceal their presence and that of the resources she sought or would she reveal them, reaping a harvest of sorrow as they are destroyed in the name of progress?

The history of the Hobbits makes a compelling story in its own right. Imagine, a clan of miniature humans hunting, taming and riding the pygmy elephants. Struggling against giant rats and lizards much larger than themselves or domesticating komodo dragons as we would a dog. While the actual hobbits were primitive by our standards we could raise them to any level of technology and advancement for use in any genre, time period or place.

How do you envision the hobbits? Primitive, futuristic or are Tolkein’s halflings the ones for you?

If you’re looking for more great information and ideas on writing, check out my previous Designing from Bones entries.

Peaceful Journeys!

About Gene Lempp

Gene Lempp is a writer blending elements of alternate history, the paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and horror for dark and delicious fun. He unearths stories by digging into history, archeology, myth and fable in his Designing from Bones blog series. “Only the moment is eternal and in a moment, everything will change,” sums the heart of his philosophy. You can find Gene at his Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, WANATribe, Google+, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.
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11 Responses to Designing From Bones – The Land of the Hobbits

  1. I remember seeing something about “Flo” on one of the random History Channel shows I like to watch. Fascinating stuff. Never realized they’d found more of her people, though.

    I’ve had a thing for lost races hiding on mysterious islands since I was a kid (Thank you, Jules Verne). But what if WE were the strange ones as a new evolution of human rose up stronger, bigger, smarter than us? Now that would make for some good story telling … 😉

  2. Great stuff, thanks again for posting! Thoughtful and provocative as always. I actually wrote a story about an Earth inhabited by more than one species of human myself, published in my book ‘Fantastic Pasts’ (Penguin 2007). Out of print now, but I always live in hope of a reprint.

    The reality, of course, is that we seem to have missed just such an experience by a geological instant; just 30,000 years ago (or maybe a little more recently) Earth contained modern humans, Neanderthals, Denisovians and the Flores ‘Hobbits’. The human family tree is, in short, is subject to normal speciation, And yet I recall how, even when I was doing my first degree in anthropology, humanity was seen as a special case – but one species could ever have existed at any one time – and my lecturers were doing backflips to try and accommodate the increasing body of evidence to the contrary. A lot of it was tied up in the need to support the multiregional hypothesis because at that time evidence for multiple waves out of Africa was lacking. Now we know better. But the legacy of that mind-set delayed the identification of the ‘Hobbits’, who were clearly shown to be a separate species via cladological methodology alone.

    Whether any ‘lost species’ will emerge is moot. On the one hand, the geography of PNG in particular counts in favour of the possibility. But on the other, modern humanity have a dire tendency to destroy everything they come across.

    Matthew Wright

  3. Jane Sadek says:

    I’m a big Tolkien fan so I enjoyed this immensely.

  4. My son has been studying these ‘Hobbits’ in school – totally fascinating! Loved this post, Gene!

  5. Catie Rhodes says:

    I have seen something about this, but I can’t remember where I saw it. My story idea for these guys is: What if you got stranded on Hobbit island and learned that they sacrifice big people?

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Shea: Right with you. Love reading up on lost tribes, mystery races, hidden history that still walks around…there are still places on Earth where people don’t go and who knows what is living in them.

      Matthew: A fascinating story line would be to combine all of the races into a single time frame. However, as you pointed out, modern humans are too dangerous so the time frame would need to be either at a technologically balanced time or a complete alternate Earth that didn’t follow the pattern of the actual one. Great comment, thanks 🙂

      Jane: Love em both. It would be interesting to see what Tolkein’s hobbits would do if faced with the Flores variety – or have Gollum as the last living fossil.

      Myndi: Have him read the post – that is awesome that they are teaching him about this in class!

      Catie: Sort of like Gulliver with a slightly more evil version of the Lilliputians…very interesting. Or they could saddle the big person and use for island long piggy back rides 🙂

  6. Jess Witkins says:

    Fascinating, I didn’t know a lot of this info. Thanks for sharing, Gene, I also want to host a movie marathon of LOTR now…you’re bringing the popcorn!

  7. Excellent post! I love going to a local nursery here because they have what I call a “hobbit” tree. There’s something about it. Magical. Fairy-tale like. Should be in a shire. I go there for inspiration and it never fails. Being a Tolkien fan, this was a lovely way to start the day 🙂

  8. I’ve been fascinated with the Hobbits for some time. I can picture one of these guys, spear in hand, riding atop a pygmy elephant, charging at a six foot human interloper. This is a great post and I almost missed it. So glad I didn’t. Gene Lempp rocks Wednesday once again.

  9. Gene, great post. I’m wondering if the next iteration of Hobbits may have been better than Homo Erectus. I mean they’d eat smaller portions of food, use less gas in their tiny Hobbit cars and have a smaller carbon foot-print, dontcha think?

  10. Jay Holmes says:

    Hi Gene. Great post. It was informative. You have a skill for presenting off beat but interesting stuff. I always enjoy your Designing From Bones series.

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