21 September 2007 (ABC News in Science) – The proof is all in the wrist! Dr Matthew Tocheri, the lead researcher in the Hobbit wrist study explains why the wrist is the most compelling proof that our Flores hobbit is really a new species. But will this be the last we hear of the issue? I doubt it.
Scientists say they have proof the so-called ‘hobbit’ from the Indonesian island of Flores is a new species, adding that the evidentiary smoking gun is all in the wrist.
The Smithsonian Institution’s Dr Matthew Tocheri, based in Washington, is the lead author of the paper published in the journal Science.
He argues that the evidence should silence those critics who suggest the hobbit, which lived until 11,000 years ago, was just a small human being, and believes more human species will soon be discovered.
“Within our human and great ape family, there are two basic kinds of wrists,” he said.
“One type we see in living chimpanzees and bonobos and gorillas. As well, we see that same wrist in early fossil hominids.”
But he says a very different type of wrist can be seen in modern humans and Neanderthals.
“When we look at the hobbit’s wrist bone, it looks just like the bones do in living African apes today, as well as earlier fossil hominids like australopithecines and Homo habilis.”
As Dr Tocheri explains, it is a different form of wrist to the modern wrist that we all share.
“When we look at the wrist evidence, modern humans and the Neanderthals are like first cousins,” he said.
“The hobbit is like a second cousin to both and then chimpanzees are like third cousins to all three.”
Dr Tocheri says the evidence published could help change people’s minds on the debate that the homo floresiensis is just a modern human with a deformity.
“When I saw these wrist bones, I teamed up with my American and Australian and Indonesian colleagues, because this is a smoking gun and people need to know this – not only the scientific community, but the general public,” he said.
“People that are actually waiting for evidence to help make up their decisions, this is definitely going to change their mind.”
He says it is a fascinating idea that until quite recently, there was a separate human species living alongside modern humans.
“It is fascinating because what it is, is it’s a nice blow,” he said.
“[As] modern humans, we tend to have over-inflated egos that we’re so important and we’re here because we’re so special and so on.
“We know Neanderthals went extinct around 30,000 years ago and we’ve sort of thought, ‘Oh, Neanderthals are really similar to us anyway, but we’ve definitely been by ourselves for the last 30,000 years’.
“What the hobbit remains are now telling us is that the hominines that we thought went extinct at least a million or more years ago, here is one surviving lineage.
“We’re probably going to start finding these more primitive, isolated communities all over in the next five to 15 to 50 years in the fossil record.
“It’s going to be a tremendously exciting time for human origins research.”
Books about Homo floresiensis:
– A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the â€œHobbitsâ€ of Flores, Indonesia by M. Morwood and P. van Oosterzee
– Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg