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.

Hobbit theory under fire

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19 May 2006 (Science, but also in too many other media) – The theory of the Hobbit man, or Homo floresiensis is under debate now as primatologist Robert Martin questions if this is not a new species, but instead a modern human suffering from microcephaly which results in small body and brain size. The actual article from Science is very technical:

Response to Comment on “The Brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis

Martin et al. claim that they have two endocasts from microcephalics that appear similar to that of LB1, Homo floresiensis. However, the line drawings they present as evidence lack details about the transverse sinuses, cerebellum, and cerebral poles. Comparative measurements, actual photographs, and sketches that identify key features are needed to draw meaningful conclusions about Martin et al.’s assertions.