Nearly 12,000 years ago, on the Wallacean island of Flores, Indonesia once roamed a hominid species only three and a half feet tall. It's now believed to have brains larger than previously thought.

Researchers claim to have discovered that the Flores "hobbits" as they are often called had brains nearly the size of an orange. The findings appear in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B and could cause many experts to rethink the accepted evolutionary model. It could well be a miniature version of Homo erectus.

The brains of Homo floresiensis, or the "hobbits" of human evolution, were imaged using a high definition micro-CT scanner. The brain clocked in at 426 cubic centimeters — roughly a third of a human's brain. It was previously estimated at 400 cubic centimeters; the difference is significant, and suggests the Homo erectus could have evolved in brain size.

The hobbit's remains were first discovered between the 1950s and 60s. Experts believe they arrived in Flores from another island called Java, 750,000 years ago and evolved in Africa nearly two million years ago.

According to study co-author Yousuke Kaifu, senior researcher at Tokyo's National Museum of Nature and Science, their "unique evolution suggests they did not go out of the island once they got there. A popular theory is that big mammals tend to reduce and small mammals tend to increase their body sizes on an isolated island because of energetic demands."

The hobbits were thought to have dwelled among komodo dragons, monitor lizards, crocodiles, and a relative of the elephants called Stegodon, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Their much larger neighbors did not endanger the hobbits' survival nor were there any man-eating animals nearby, suggesting a reason why the hobbits didn't need a significantly larger brain.

While Kaifu believes the hobbits' ancestry was founded in Southeast Asia, other researchers predict Homo floresiensis could be descendants of a more smaller-brained, primitive ancestor.

[Previous version of article incorrectly stated hobbits were sighted. It was their remains that were recovered.]