Hobbits from a seperate branch?

Yet another paper lends support to the idea that the Flores Hobbit is a seperate species and not a deformed human. This time, a study uses cladistics, or the comparison of physical characteristics to determine ancestry, and determined through computer modelling that homo floresiensis split off from homo sapiens nearly two million years ago. Pretty exciting stuff because of the unexpectedly early date, which, if proven true from later finds, will force a rewrite of how we understand how early man came about and populated the earth. However, as with all the hobbit studies previously published, we’ve still been looking at only one set of bones. I think what we really need now is some independent confirmation in the form of another hobbit find.

Flores
photo credit: Ryan Somma

Hobbit early off the family tree: New research
ANU Media Release, 31 July 2009

Humans, Flores ‘hobbits’ existed together: study
ABC News, 2 August 2009

A newly applied technique for analysing the ‘hobbit’ bones found on the Indonesian island of Flores strongly supports the theory that the remains come from a new species, potentially overturning longstanding ideas about human evolution and dispersal.

Anthropologist Debbie Argue from The Australian National University has led a new research project comparing characteristics of Homo floresiensis bones to those of other early hominin species to build up a picture of where the hobbit sits in the evolutionary tree.

The team used ‘cladistic’ analysis – the first time this has been used in relation to H. floresiensis. It is an approach that compares the forms of organisms to determine ancestral relationships. The results – published in the Journal of Human Evolution – suggest that H. floresiensis diverged from the Homo sapiens evolutionary line in the Early Pleistocene, or even the Pliocene, nearly 2 million years ago, meaning that it did not share an immediate ancestor with modern humans.


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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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