24 Jul 2013

Founder of 'hobbit' species dies

8:50 pm on 24 July 2013

The New Zealand-born archaeologist who discovered a new species of pre-historic human has died.

Mike Morwood was born in Auckland and studied archaeology at Auckland University before moving to Australia in the 1970s.

Professor Mike Morwood.

Professor Mike Morwood. Photo: BRENT ALLOWAY

In October 2004, Professor Morwood and his colleagues stunned the world when they found the fossilised skeletons of Homo floresiensis who lived on the Indonesian island of Flores 18,000 years ago.

The dwarf-like species of pre-humans grew only one metre tall and had large feet. They quickly became known as 'hobbits' after the characters in JRR Tolkien's books.

In an interview with Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme last year, Professor Morwood said he made the discovery entirely by mistake.

"We started working on Flores basically to look for the ancestors of the first Australians but by no means did we anticipate finding a whole population of little people about a metre tall overlapping considerably in time with us."

A colleague and close friend, Brent Alloway, says Professor Morwood continued studying the ancient humans up until his death and two papers he co-authored have been submitted to the prestigious journal Nature.

Professor Morwood died at a hospice in Darwin on Tuesday morning after a battle with cancer. He was 62.