Hominins on Flores by one million years ago

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A paper by Brumm et al released online in Nature earlier this month reports the finds of stone tools in Wolo Sege, Flores dating to about a million years old. Some of the news media (see links below) are linking the find to the ‘hobbit’ found in the same island although there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection. The finds don’t seem all that surprising to me, since we already know that some hominins (Homo erectus) reached Java a million and a half years ago and another earlier find of stone tools dated 880,000 years was found just half a kilometre away, but it’ll be interesting to see if a link between these million-year-old hominins and the hobbit can be established.

Hominins on Flores, Indonesia, by one million years ago
Nature, 17 March 2010
doi:10.1038/nature08844

“Hobbits” Had Million-Year History on Island?
National Geographic, 17 March 2010

Tools found on ‘hobbit’ island
The Irish Times, 18 March 2010

‘Hobbits’ May Have Arrived in Flores Much Earlier Than Thought: Scientists
Jakarta Globe, 18 March 2010

‘Hobbit’ island’s deeper history

BBC News, 18 March 2010

Early humans colonized Indonesian island
ABC, via CBC News, 18 March 2010
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The Hobbit’s dental work

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In an interesting twist to the hotly-debated Hobbit saga, a new book claims that the Hobbit remains appear to have had some dental work on them, overturning the supposed antiquity of the bones and thus, the new species theory.

Did the Flores Hobbit Have a Root Canal?
Scientific American, 18 April 2008

Hobbit ‘had been to dentist’
The Australian, 19 April 2008

The tooth, and nothing but
The Australian, 19 April 2008
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Wednesday Rojak #5

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Hobbits! Hobbits! and more Hobbits! is the theme for this week’s Wednesday Rojak, which is not surprising since last week saw the release of a paper supporting the hobbit-is-not-human camp by describing the wrist bones of homo floresiensis as primitive, descending from an earlier hominin offshoot. Read about:

  • Kambiz Kamrani takes a closer look at the bone analyses outlined in the study.
  • The Cabinet of Wonders takes a step back to comment on the dynamics of opinion about the hobbit in Hobbits? It’s all in the wrist.
  • While Kris points out that between a new species of human or deformed, the hobbit might not even be human.
  • And for an overview of early human migrations through the world, TuLu Research posts a small map and timeline for your reference.
  • On an afterthought, 900 ft Jesus thinks that the whole Hobbit affair should really mess with creationists’ heads.

Of course, there’s some other stuff in Southeast Asia too, like:

In this series of weekly rojaks (published on Wednesdays) I’ll feature other sites in the blogosphere that are of related to archaeology in Southeast Asia. Got a recommendation for the next Wednesday rojak? Email me

Newsweek on the Hobbit

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20 September 2007 (Newsweek) – Newsweek magazine features an interview with Matthew Tocheri, one of the investigators behind the Hobbit wrist study.

‘Tip of the Iceberg’
A new study of a skeleton of a member of a race of three-foot-tall ‘hobbits’ who lived 12,000 years ago in Indonesia shows that they were a species of human—and that the evolutionary path to Homo sapiens has been tortuous indeed.
by Jessica Bennett

It was an astonishing discovery: the skeletal remains of a new human species that lived for eons on a remote island while man colonized the rest of the planet. Back when it was first discovered in 2003, on the tiny Indonesian island of Flores, the three-foot-tall adult female skeleton was dubbed “the hobbit,” because she—and the 11 other skeletal remains that were found like her—bore more of a resemblance to the Tolkien fantasy characters than to modern humans. The hobbit’s discovery presented evidence that as recently as 12,000 years ago another species of human may have roamed the earth and, more startling, that our evolutionary history was a lot more complex than previously thought. Many scientists were more skeptical—the bones, they said, most likely belonged to a diminutive human with physical defects: a freak.

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The Primitive Wrist of Homo floresiensis and Its Implications for Hominin Evolution

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21 September 2007 (Science Magazine) – And finally, the abstract of the homo floresiensis wrist study from Science Magazine. Subscription required for full access.

The Primitive Wrist of Homo floresiensis and Its Implications for Hominin Evolution
Matthew W. Tocheri, Caley M. Orr, Susan G. Larson, Thomas Sutikna, Jatmiko, E. Wahyu Saptomo, Rokus Awe Due, Tony Djubiantono, Michael J. Morwood, William L. Jungers

Whether the Late Pleistocene hominin fossils from Flores, Indonesia, represent a new species, Homo floresiensis, or pathological modern humans has been debated. Analysis of three wrist bones from the holotype specimen (LB1) shows that it retains wrist morphology that is primitive for the African ape-human clade. In contrast, Neandertals and modern humans share derived wrist morphology that forms during embryogenesis, which diminishes the probability that pathology could result in the normal primitive state. This evidence indicates that LB1 is not a modern human with an undiagnosed pathology or growth defect; rather, it represents a species descended from a hominin ancestor that branched off before the origin of the clade that includes modern humans, Neandertals, and their last common ancestor.

The wrist is the 'smoking gun'

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21 September 2007 (ABC News in Science) – The proof is all in the wrist! Dr Matthew Tocheri, the lead researcher in the Hobbit wrist study explains why the wrist is the most compelling proof that our Flores hobbit is really a new species. But will this be the last we hear of the issue? I doubt it.

Hobbit evidence will silence critics, scientist says
David Mark

Scientists say they have proof the so-called ‘hobbit’ from the Indonesian island of Flores is a new species, adding that the evidentiary smoking gun is all in the wrist.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Dr Matthew Tocheri, based in Washington, is the lead author of the paper published in the journal Science.

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Wrist gives hobbit theory the flick

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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.

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Wrist bone study adds to Hobbit controversy

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20 September 2007 (Smithsonian Institution) – A new study on the wrist bones recovered from the homo floresiensis assembly adds extra weight to our Hobbit from Flores being an entirely new species rather than a sick, deformed human. There are a few other stories popping up today so stay tuned for more insights! It’s a really busy day at work, so hopefully I can post them all up by the end of the day.

Homo Floresiensis by SBishop
Homo Floresiensis skull, creative commons image by SBishop

New Research Sheds Light on “Hobbit” Smithsonian-led Study Published in Science

An international team of researchers led by the Smithsonian Institution has completed a new study on Homo floresiensis, commonly referred to as the “hobbit,” a 3-foot-tall, 18,000-year-old hominin skeleton, discovered four years ago on the Indonesian island of Flores. This study offers one of the most striking confirmations of the original interpretation of the hobbit as an island remnant of one of the oldest human migrations to Asia. The research is being published in the Sept. 21 issue of Science.

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Another Homo Floresiensis book review

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07 July 2007 (American Scientist) – Another book review of “A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia” by Mike Morwood and Penny van Oosterzee. This review is longer than the previous one feature here, although I don’t think I’m planning to read the book anytime soon.

Choosing One’s Relatives

The discovery of a new hominin species in human ancestry is always exciting, never more so than when it is completely unexpected. And certainly no one anticipated that the fossil remains of such a species would be found in 2003 in Liang Bua, a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. But that year a team of archaeologists, anthropologists and geologists from Australia and Indonesia working at Liang Bua uncovered the bonesof a tiny woman, whom they eventually concluded was a hominin of a new species, Homo floresiensis. That bold claim has ignited considerable controversy among paleo-anthropologists.

Now one of the members of the team that found the specimen, Mike Morwood, has written a book titled A New Human, with science writer Penny van Oosterzee as coauthor. Their fascinating account of how the large-scale, multidisciplinary excavation was set up and run shows just how such an investigation should be conducted. They cover everything: the preliminary groundwork to find out who has to be approached to get permissions, with all the politics and administrative matters that are an unavoidable adjunct to such forms of scientific inquiry; the actual business of excavation and the dating of the deposit; and finally, the process of publishing a description of the fossils and their context. Anyone thinking of undertaking such a project would do well to consult this book.

Read the full review of “A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia” from American Scientist.

More books about Homo floresiensis, aka The Hobbit:
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