Is this the end of Homo Floresiensis?

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21 August 2006 (John Hawks Weblog) – John Hawks, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison writes a long (a far more qualified than me to give an educated opinion about) commentary on the homo floresiensis debate.

Is this the end of Homo florensiensis?

First of all, it is now abundantly clear that some kind of microcephaly can explain the small size and small brain size of the LB1 specimen. Moreover, the specimen exhibits other very obvious signs of developmental pathology. It is a bad specimen on which to base the diagnosis of a new species; its most important features are quite plausibly caused by its manifest pathology.

The argument so far against pathology has been that it cannot explain other unique morphologies, like the lack of a chin, and Tomes’ root, and so forth. But this paper shows that none of these other features are necessarily unusual for modern humans, in the local and regional context. So that argument is dead, unless someone can show that there is some unique character to the combination of traits in the specimen. Since most of the features that would differentiate it from Homo erectus — purportedly due to endemic dwarfism — are also shared with modern humans, that seems like a problem for the species idea.

So I completely accept the argument that LB1 is pathological. A corollary is that the skeleton cannot be a convincing type specimen for a new species.

But this isn’t only about LB1: there are the other small specimens. This paper makes clear that none of the features of the LB6/1 mandible are outside the range of local peoples. This is not a case of two specimens that must share some rare pathology; the paper argues that they are two specimens that share a regionally-common suite of characteristics. They aren’t, in other words, unusual.


Related Books:
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

Hobbit Debate Turns Nasty

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22 August 2006 (ABC News in Science) – A follow up from the previous press release describing the Hobbit debate. Am still waiting for the article to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (delay probably due to time difference).

Hobbit Debate Turns Nasty

A new paper has inflamed the debate over the hobbit’s origins, with one researcher criticising the scientific journal that published the research.

A paper in today’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) is the second this year to conclude that the hobbit is just a sick human.

Indonesian researcher Professor Teuku Jacob, from Gadjah Mada University, and an international team argue that the hobbit is a microcephalic pygmy rather than a new species of hominid.


Related Books:
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

No hobbits in this shire

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21 Aug 2006 (Press Release, from EurekaAlert) – Fresh off the press! It turns out that the Indonesian Hobbit, the homo floresiensis, is not a new species of human being but an abnormal variation of ours. Oh well. It was fun to entertain the thought while it lasted. The embargo for this press release was lifted only a few hours ago. Click on the picture link in the actual article to see some cool pictures of the facial symmetry of the hobbit skull.

No hobbits in this shire

The skeletal remains found in a cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia, reported in 2004, do not represent a new species as then claimed, but some of the ancestors of modern human pygmies who live on the island today, according to an international scientific team….

One error made in the earlier proposal of a new species was that “comparisons of LB1 were made mostly with Homo sapiens from other geographic areas of the world, principally Europe,” the researchers note. “Yet it would have been logical even for a supposedly novel human species from the Australomelanesian region to have been compared with other human populations, present as well as past, from that region,” they added.

“To establish a new species, paleoanthropologists are required to document a unique complex of normal traits not found in any other species,” says Eckhardt. “But this was not done. The normal traits of LB1 were not unique, and its unusually small braincase was not normal.”

To study LB1’s traits, 94 cranial features and 46 features of its mandible were compared to values for modern humans. All fell within the normal range of variation for Australomelanesians. Two anatomical details, particular grooves in the cranial base singled out as “not seen in modern humans,” in the 2004 new species announcement are, according to Alan Thorne, archaeology and natural history, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra, commonly found in Australian and Tasmanian crania….

To visualize the facial asymmetry, David W. Frayer, professor, department of anthropology, University of Kansas, composed split photographs of LB1’s face, combining two left or two right sides as composite faces. The dissimilarities from the original face and between the two left or right composites were striking. To quantify these differences the researchers compared left and right side measurements on the original face.


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

Old tools shed light on hobbit origins

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1 June 2006 (Nature) – Stone tool finds beside hobbit suggest that they inherited tool-making tradition from homo erectus predecessors.

Old tools shed light on hobbit origins

The latest twist in the tale suggests that these one-metre-tall hominids, with a brain the size of a grapefruit, were the final members of a tool-making tradition stretching back more than 800,000 years.

… a separate line of evidence points to H. floresiensis as a tool-maker. More than 500 stone blades found on Flores and dated to more than 700,000 years ago seem to have been made in the same way — by striking stones to chip off large flakes — as the more recent blades found with the hobbits.