Wrist gives hobbit theory the flick

Here’s a news piece about the wrist study which sums up the news quite nicely in layman terms. There’s also a dissenting opinion about the study that’s also food for thought.

21 September 2007 (ABC News in Science) – Here’s a news piece about the wrist study which sums up the news quite nicely in layman terms. There’s also a dissenting opinion about the study that’s also food for thought.

Wrist gives hobbit theory the flick
Anna Salleh

The hobbit had wrists more like those of non-human apes than those of modern humans, according to researchers who say their findings are more evidence that Homo floresiensis is a new species.

The findings reignite debate over the status of the diminutive creature found in Liang Bua cave on the Indonesian island of Flores.

International researchers including Professor Mike Morwood of the University of Wollongong publish their analysis of hobbit wrist bones today in the journal Science.

“The primitive morphology of the LB1 [hobbit specimen] wrist bones confirms what other H. floresiensis traits indicate,” says Morwood.

Scientists have been debating since 2004 whether the bones are really those of a new species or a sick modern human.

Critics like Dr Alan Thorne of the Australian National University say the hobbit’s tiny skull shows it was a modern human suffering microcephaly, a condition that causes a small brain.

And he is not convinced by the latest study of three wrist bones.

He says different bones were scattered about in the cave and the researchers provide no evidence the three bones came from the same individual, let alone the individual whose skull has been so closely studied.

Thorne also argues the difference shown between the hobbit wrist bones and those of modern humans is not that great and says the variation could be part of that which occurs among the wrist bones of living modern humans.

“We certainly maintain that the head and teeth and the lower jaw are all definitely Homo sapiens,” says Thorne. “It’s very similar to some [living Aboriginal] Queenslanders.”

Another part of the body

Professor Bert Roberts, who works with Morwood at the University of Wollongong, says the wrist study is important because it uses another part of the body to provide evidence for a new species.

Morwood himself says there is now a plethora of both published and unpublished work that supports his case.

He says the stature, body proportions, brain size and structure as well as shoulder, pelvis, jaw and teeth of specimens found in the cave all suggest the hobbit is a new species that evolved in isolation on the island.

“In total these traits all indicate that the species is derived from long-term, insular evolution operating on representatives from a very early, small-bodied, small-brained, primitive proportioned hominin dispersal out of Africa,” he says.

Books about Homo floresiensis:
A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia by M. Morwood and P. van Oosterzee
Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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