Holy Smoke! The hobbit might not be human after all!

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Ordinarily, it’d be just another sway in the ongoing hobbit debate, but this time it’s different. It seems that one of the original discoverers of the Hobbit aka homo floresiensis may be rethinking the idea of the hobbit as a human. This rethink comes in the face of new discoveries of hobbit bones (a total of six to nine individuals, up from a previous number of one) as well as a study of the mandibles and teeth still suggest that they are nowhere near modern humans, but also differ from the earliest hominins out of Africa (the hominins from Dmanisi in Georgia).

Flores
photo credit: Ryan Somma

Hobbit species may not have been human
The Australian, 30 September 2009
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Hobbits from a seperate branch?

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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
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The hobbit’s a new species! Again. Or not.

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You know it’s a sign of hobbit-fatigue when a new claim about the hobbit pops up, and all you can say is, “…uh-huh.” This new claim swings the pendulum back to the “new species” camp, after a new study compared the cranial morphology of the hobbit with a simulated 3D model of a hominid with the same size. The correlations in the 3D model seem to indicate that the hobbit fits the parameters of a small hominid rather than a human, deformed or otherwise.

Of course, this is not the last we are going to hear about the issue. I doubt detractors are going to accept the hobbit-as-a-separate thesis on the basis that the hobbit’s cranium fits the prediction by a computer model. Incidentally, the Journal of Human Evolution has a whole series of papers published around the same time about the Flores skeletons and archaeological material, including descriptions of the Hobbit skeletons.

‘Hobbit’ Fossils Represent A New Species, Concludes Anthropologist
Science Daily, 17 Dec 2008

Size, shape, and asymmetry in fossil hominins: The status of the LB1 cranium based on 3D morphometric analyses
Journal of Human Evolution, 04 December 2008
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