Are hobbits human? Are they our distant relatives from the past, who have evolved to be short, or are they mythical creatures that never existed? New research sheds light on this ancient mystery, as scientists investigate the genetic relationship between “hobbits” and a population of modern humans.

About 12 years ago, scientists discovered a new species of “small” humans that they called Homo floresiensis and dubbed “hobbits” due to their short stature.

The name Homo floresiensis comes from the Indonesian “Flores Island,” from which the fossil skeletons of the species were unearthed in 2004.

Researchers believe that H. floresiensis were at the peak of their evolution about 13,000 years ago. However, we do not currently understand their relationship to modern humans.

That said, modern DNA sequencing techniques can be valuable tools that allow us to solve ancient — and modern — mysteries.

In a bid to understand the genetic relationship between these tiny, hobbit-like beings and modern humans, an international team of researchers analyzed the genetic makeup of the H. floresiensisand compared it with that of another group with short stature: a pygmy population that lives in Flores.

Richard E. Green, an associate professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California Santa Cruz, is the corresponding author of the study that details the findings.

Green and his colleagues published their paper in the journal Science.

Height and diet genetic variants found

Cultural anthropologists named pygmy populations this way in reference to Homer’s Iliad, which describes a mythical “people of short stature.”