In an astonishing discovery that could rewrite the history of human evolution, scientists say they have found the skeleton of a new human species, a dwarf, marooned for eons in a tropical Lost World while modern man rapidly colonised the rest of the planet.
The finding on a remote Indonesian island has stunned anthropologists like no other in recent memory. It is a fundamentally new creature that bears more of a resemblance to fictional, barefooted hobbits than modern humans.
Yet biologically speaking, it may have been closely related to us and perhaps even shared its caves with our ancestors.
The 3-foot-tall adult female skeleton found in a cave is believed 18,000 years old. It smashes the long-cherished scientific belief that our species, Homo sapiens, systematically crowded out other upright-walking human cousins beginning 160,000 years ago and that we've had Earth to ourselves for tens of thousands of years.
Instead, it suggests recent evolution was more complex than previously thought.
And it demonstrates that Africa, the acknowledged cradle of humanity, does not hold all the answers to persistent questions of how - and where - we came to be.
"This finding really does rewrite our knowledge of human evolution," said Chris Stringer, who directs human origins studies at the Natural History Museum in London. "And to have them present less than 20,000 years ago is frankly astonishing."
Scientists called the dwarf skeleton "the most extreme" figure to be included in the extended human family. Certainly, she is the shortest.
She is the best example of a trove of fragmented bones that account for as many as seven of these primitive individuals that lived on the equatorial island of Flores, located east of Java and northwest of Australia. The mostly intact female skeleton was found in September 2003.
Scientists have named the extinct species Homo floresiensis, or Flores Man, and details appear in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
The specimens' ages range from 95,000 to 12,000 years old, meaning they lived until the threshold of recorded human history and perhaps crossed paths with the ancestors of today's islanders.
Flores Man was hardly formidable. His grapefruit-sized brain was two-thirds smaller than ours, and closer to the brains of today's chimpanzees and transitional prehuman species in Africa than vanished 2 million years ago.
Yet Flores Man made stone tools, lit fires and organised group hunts for meat. Bones of fish, birds and rodents found near the skeleton were charred, suggesting they were cooked.
All this suggests Flores Man lived communally and communicated effectively, perhaps even verbally.
"It is arguably the most significant discovery concerning our own genus in my lifetime," said anthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University, who reviewed the research independently.
A spokesperson for Australian Motorsport was not surprised by the discovery. "We have been aware of this species for quite sometime. With their long arms dragging in the dirt, dark dirty bodies and very small brain, they are known in Australia as Holden Supporters. They gather often on Sundays where they drink, urinate and make complete fools of themselves" said the spokesperson.