It may not yet be enough to convince a jury, but mounting evidence suggests ancestors of modern humans wiped out the world’s only known population of hobbits.
A race of 3.5ft tall humans – known as “hobbits” – were using stone tools on the Indonesian island of Flores 50,000 years ago but then mysteriously vanished.
Scientists now believe modern Homo sapiens humans were using fire in the hobbits’ cave at least 41,000 years ago.
The discovery of hearths in the Liang Bua cave indicates that hobbits and modern humans both occupied the site within 11,000 years of each other.
Researchers are searching for more evidence that will remove any remaining alibi modern humans might have.
If the two species came together at the same place and time it could explain the hobbits’ extinction.
An international team of scientists uncovered the remains of a previously unknown species of small-statured human, Homo floresiensis, in Liang Bua cave in 2003.
Known as “hobbits” after the characters invented by Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkein, the creatures were originally thought to have lived as recently as 12,000 years ago.
Later experts dated the bones at between 190,000 and 60,000-years-old, while the most recent hobbit stone tools were thought to be 50,000 years old.
Although they used stone tools, there is no evidence that the hobbits had mastered fire. The hearth remains found in the cave were most likely left by modern humans, scientists said.