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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More to be found in the Hobbit lands?

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06 May 2007 (The Age) – The real news of this story is that Dr. Morwood, from the team who discovered the hobbit hominid in Flores, is about to begin an archaeological investigation into the islands of Timor and Sulawesi, near Flores where our favourite controversial hobbit was found. This rest of the story, about finding the existence of other extinct animal and human species a la homo floresiensis is still entirely speculative.

From the hobbit team, more human relations

More bizarre, extinct human species — dwarfs and even giants — could be uncovered in Indonesia’s southern islands, with the Australian discoverer of the “hobbit” set to begin fresh diggings next month.

Mike Morwood — who with fellow Australian Peter Brown led the team that discovered the hobbit, Homo floresiensis, in 2003 — is predicting further species will be uncovered on the islands of Timor and Sulawesi, which are near Flores.

Professor Morwood, with a team headed by Indonesian archaeological professor Fachroel Aziz from Indonesia’s Geological Survey Institute, will soon start excavations in the Atambua Basin of Timor. Afterwards, the team will begin diggings in Sulawesi and will return to the Ling Bua cave in Flores, where the hobbit species was uncovered.

“We predict a number of these islands are probably going to have their own endemic human species, and many of them will be small,” Professor Morwood, from the University of Wollongong said.

Professor Morwood flagged that any new human species found on Timor and Sulawesi would be called Homo timoriensis and Homo celebesiensis (Celebes being the former name of Sulawesi).

He said these new species would have evolved separately on their respective islands for more than a million years. Although they could be similar is size, they would be different enough to warrant their own species name.

Professor Morwood said further archaeological finds would help answer the puzzling question of the ancestry of the hobbit, which could lead to a total redrawing of the human family tree. A popular explanation is that the hobbit — and any species that lived in Timor and Sulawesi — are descended from Homo erectus, which lived in Indonesia, notably Java, for thousands of years. But this was probably wrong, Professor Morwood said.

“Some of the traits of Homo floresiensis are so primitive — they’re more primitive than you find in Homo erectus. It seems likely that the ancestor was something before Homo erectus,” he said.

If true, this would revolutionise our understanding of human history because Homo erectus was believed to be the first early human that was advanced enough to leave Africa.


Related Books:
Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg
Human Origins : The Fossil Record by C. S. Larsen

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.”

Related Books:
Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg