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March 8, 2010
Hunting for "The Hobbit"
LIANG BUA, Indonesia (AP) -- Hunched over a picnic table in a limestone cave, the Indonesian researcher gingerly fingers the bones of a giant rat for clues to the origins of a tiny human. This world turned upside down may once have existed here, on the remote island of Flores, where an international team is trying to shed light on the fossilized 18,000-year-old skeleton of a dwarf cavewoman whose discovery in 2003 was an international sensation. Her scientific name is Homo floresiensis, her nickname is "the hobbit," and the hunt is on to prove that she and the dozen other hobbits since discovered are not a quirk of nature but members of a distinct hominid species.
"They butchered the animals here," said the researcher, Rokus Due Awe, studying the toothpick-sized rat bones possibly left over from hobbit meals. Behind him, workers carried out buckets of soil from a cathedral-like cave festooned with stalactites, 40 meters (130-feet) underground. The discovery of Homo floresiensis shocked and divided scientists. Here apparently was a band of distant relatives that exhibited features not seen for millions of years but were living at the same time as much more modern humans. Almost overnight, the find threatened to change our understanding of human evolution. (13 images)

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Workers excavate a cave at Liang Bua, Indonesia, on Monday, Sept. 12, 2009, where the 18,000-year-old skeleton of a dwarf cavewoman was found in 2003. There is growing consensus that Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "the hobbit,"and a dozen others found since then, are a new hominid species. AP / Achmad Ibrahim


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Workers labor at Liang Bua cave excavation site on Sept. 14, 2009, where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island of Indonesia. This world turned upside down may once have existed on the remote island of Flores, where an international team is trying to shed light on the fossilized 18,000-year-old skeleton of a dwarf cavewoman whose discovery in 2003 was an international sensation. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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Workers labor at the Liang Bua cave excavation site where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island of Indonesia. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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Workers labor at Liang Bua cave excavation site where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island of Indonesia. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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Australian archaeologist Mike Morwood works at the Liang Bua cave excavation site where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island, Indonesia. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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Workers labor at the Liang Bua cave excavation site on where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island in Indonesia. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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An Indonesian archaeologist works at the Liang Bua cave excavation site where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island, Indonesia. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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Jatmiko, an Indonesian archaeologist examines a prehistoric stone spall at Liang Bua cave excavation site on Sept. 14, 2009, where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island of Indonesia. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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An Indonesian archaeologist examines a stone spall at Liang Bua cave excavation site where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island, Indonesia. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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A prehistoric stone spall is examined by an Indonesian archaeologist at the Liang Bua cave excavation site on where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island of Indonesia. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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Workers labor at the Liang Bua cave excavation site where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in Ruteng, Flores island, Indonesia. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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Four-foot-tall Victor Jehabut, second left, walks in his village in Rampasasa, Indonesia. The 80 year old is often claimed by tour guides as a descendant of Homo floresiensis, dwarf cave-dwellers that roamed Flores island 160,000 years ago. Jehabut said the rumors of him being related to the hobbits are not true, and that childhood hardship had stunted his growth. AP / Achmad Ibrahim



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At the left is an undated photo released by the National Archaeological Research and Development of Indonesian Cultural and Tourism Department of a researcher holding a skull of a Homo floresiensis in Indonesia. At the right is an undated photo released by the Department of Anatomical Sciences of Stony Brook University Medical Center showing the skeleton of Homo floresiensis that was discovered in Liang Bua cave in Ruteng, Flores island, Indonesia.



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