Possible Hobbit ancestors found in Flores, dating 700,000 years

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Mata Menge site. Source: Nature via ABC News 20160609

A new paper out in Nature last month detail the find of tiny hominid bones in Flores, home of H. floresiensis. The fossils from Mata Menge date to 700,000 years old, and suggest that the hobbit had been older and had a longer history on the island than previously thought.

Homo floresiensis-like fossils from the early Middle Pleistocene of Flores
Nature, 09 June 2006
doi:10.1038/nature17999

‘Hobbit’ relatives found after ten-year hunt
Nature, 08 June 2016

Homo floresiensis has been uncovered at the 700,000 year old site of Mata Menge, Flores, Indonesia
Human Evolution @ UCK, 08 June 2016

Flores fossil discovery provides clues to ‘hobbit’ ancestors
The Guardian, 08 June 2016

Flores fossil discovery gives new clue to ‘hobbit’ relatives
AFP, via Economic Times, 09 June 2016

Hobbit discovery: Hopes 700,000-year-old find could shed new light on evolution
ABC News, 09 June 2016

New fossils shed light on the origin of ‘hobbits’
Griffith University, via Popular Archaeology, 09 June 2016

Australian-led team unlocked new questions about human evolution and the history of the`Hobbit’
News.com.au, 10 June 2016

The evolutionary origin of Homo floresiensis, a diminutive hominin species previously known only by skeletal remains from Liang Bua in western Flores, Indonesia, has been intensively debated. It is a matter of controversy whether this primitive form, dated to the Late Pleistocene, evolved from early Asian Homo erectus and represents a unique and striking case of evolutionary reversal in hominin body and brain size within an insular environment1–4. The alternative hypothesis is that H. floresiensis derived from an older, smaller-brained member of our genus, such as Homo habilis, or perhaps even late Australopithecus, signalling a hitherto undocumented dispersal of hominins from Africa into eastern Asia by two million years ago (2 Ma)5,6. Here we describe hominin fossils excavated in 2014 from an early Middle Pleistocene site (Mata Menge) in the So’a Basin of central Flores. These specimens comprise a mandible fragment and six isolated teeth belonging to at least three small-jawed and small-toothed individuals. Dating to ~0.7 Ma, these fossils now constitute the oldest hominin remains from Flores7. The Mata Menge mandible and teeth are similar in dimensions and morphological characteristics to those of H. floresiensis from Liang Bua. The exception is the mandibular first molar, which retains a more primitive condition. Notably, the Mata Menge mandible and molar are even smaller in size than those of the two existing H. floresiensis individuals from Liang Bua. The Mata Menge fossils are derived compared with Australopithecus and H. habilis, and so tend to support the view that H. floresiensis is a dwarfed descendent of early Asian H. erectus. Our findings suggest that hominins on Flores had acquired extremely small body size and other morphological traits specific to H. floresiensis at an unexpectedly early time.

Article link here.

First discovery of archaic Homo from Taiwan

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Jawbone of Penghu 1. Source: Ancient Origins, 20150128

A fossil jawbone recovered from the seabed near Taiwan represents the first ancient hominid find from the region; dating is imprecise – anywhere from 10 to 190ka – but the form is more reminiscent of archaic hominids rather than recent ones. If so, it lends weight to the theory that there were multiple groups of ancient hominids that existed outside of Africa.

Jawbone of Penghu 1. Source: Ancient Origins, 20150128

Jawbone of Penghu 1. Source: Ancient Origins, 20150128

The first archaic Homo from Taiwan
Nature Communications, 27 January 2015
doi:10.1038/ncomms7037

Ancient Human Fossil Could Be New Primitive Species
Live Science, 27 January 2015

Taiwan Jaw Bone Connected to the Origins of Humanity, May Reveal Entirely New Prehistoric Species
Ancient Origins, 28 January 2015

Recent studies of an increasing number of hominin fossils highlight regional and chronological diversities of archaic Homo in the Pleistocene of eastern Asia. However, such a realization is still based on limited geographical occurrences mainly from Indonesia, China and Russian Altai. Here we describe a newly discovered archaic Homo mandible from Taiwan (Penghu 1), which further increases the diversity of Pleistocene Asian hominins. Penghu 1 revealed an unexpectedly late survival (younger than 450 but most likely 190–10 thousand years ago) of robust, apparently primitive dentognathic morphology in the periphery of the continent, which is unknown among the penecontemporaneous fossil records from other regions of Asia except for the mid-Middle Pleistocene Homo from Hexian, Eastern China. Such patterns of geographic trait distribution cannot be simply explained by clinal geographic variation of Homo erectus between northern China and Java, and suggests survival of multiple evolutionary lineages among archaic hominins before the arrival of modern humans in the region.

Read the full paper here.

Red Deer Cave People: another set of new, old humans

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I’ve been slow in getting this news out which has been floating about a week already. An article in PLoS One discusses a set of human remains from China, dating to about 11,000 years old, containing a mix of modern and archaic hominid traits and may suggest a late-surviving set of archaic hominids, or part of an earlier human migration out of Africa that has been undetected until now.

Human Remains from the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition of Southwest China Suggest a Complex Evolutionary History for East Asians
Darren Curnoe1, Ji Xueping, Andy I. R. Herries, Bai Kanning, Paul S. C. Taçon, Bao Zhende, David Fink, Zhu Yunsheng, John Hellstrom, Luo Yun, Gerasimos Cassis, Su Bing, Stephen Wroe, Hong Shi, William C. H. Parr, Huang Shengmin, Natalie Rogers
PLoS ONE 7(3): e31918. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031918

Human fossils hint at new species
BBC, 14 March 2012

‘Red Deer Cave people’ may be new species of human
The Guardian, 14 March 2012

Mysterious ‘Red-deer Cave people’ fossils found in China
EarthSky, 20 March 2012

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Small skull, huge controversy

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c. 23 April 2007 (Research|Penn State) Research|Penn State, an online magazine by the Pennsylvana State University has an interesting feature-length article on Dr Bob Eckhart, who leads the charge in debunking the Hobbit myth. While SEAArch has covered plenty in the news about homo floresiensis, this article presents an in-depth look at the arguments against the Hobbit theory and is worth a read for anyone following the story.

Small skull, huge controversy

In October 2004, while working in his lab, Bob Eckhardt heard a report on National Public Radio: A team of archaeologists had unearthed bones of a three-foot-tall humanlike creature on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Based on the shape and size of the skull and other skeletal remains, the archaeologists, led by Michael J. Morwood of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, claimed they had discovered a new species of human.

The diminutive biped had a cranium no larger than a chimpanzee’s, yet its bones had been found along with abundant stone tools. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal in the same stratum, along with luminescence dating of surrounding sediments, implied that the skeleton was only 18,000 years old. Considering other earlier archaeological finds on Flores, Morwood and his colleagues concluded that a new human species had evolved from a preceding population of Homo erectus that had been isolated for over 840,000 years on Flores, in the archipelago between Asia and Australia.

Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology in Penn State’s department of kinesiology, added it up. Three feet tall. A tiny brain. Complex stone tools. Evolved in complete isolation in 40,000 generations. He says: “It just didn’t ring true.”

Eckhardt read the scientific papers, published in the British journal Nature, setting forth the findings and conclusions of Morwood’s group. “A lot of things didn’t make sense,” he says. “For instance, the overall height seemed to be off. I took the long-bone measurements from the paper and plugged them into standard regression formulas.” Where Morwood and colleagues estimated an overall height of 1.06 meters for their specimen, Eckhardt came up with figures ranging from 1.15 to 1.33 meters, with an average of 1.25 meters—more than seven inches taller than Morwood’s estimate. Eckhardt also wondered about the proximity of the small cranium to sophisticated stone tools, including points, perforators, blades, and microblades. Over a century of research by anthropologists has established a rough correlation between an increasing brain size and advances in stone-tool technology. The kinds of tools described in the Nature article matched those made elsewhere by Homo sapiens. Says Eckhardt, “It seemed very unlikely that a human with a chimp-sized brain would have invented such tools independently and in total isolation.”