The Australian archaeologist who discovered a new species of mini-human known as "the Hobbit" has been hailed as a scientific "game-changer" following his death from cancer.

New Zealand-born archaeologist Mike Morwood from the University of Wollongong led the research team that discovered the remains of Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores, between Bali and Timor, in 2003.

He died of cancer in hospital in Darwin on Monday.

The discovery in a cave of the well-preserved female skeleton, named after JRR Tolkien's fictional creatures, revolutionised what was known about human evolution and sparked spirited debate in the scientific community.

Professor Alistair Paterson, head of the school of social science at the University of Western Australia, described Prof Morwood as an exceptional archaeologist and researcher.

"In the areas he chose to focus he was inevitably a game-changer, one of a rare group of Australian researchers who made an extraordinary contribution to their field," he said.