Studies say 'hobbit' previously unknown species
2009 05 07
A photo from the University of Wollongong in Australia shows an artist's impression of a human species.
The tiny ancient humans dubbed hobbits, whose remains were discovered on an Indonesian island in 2003, were a previously unknown species altogether, according to two new studies.
Debate has raged in the scientific community since the fossils were found on the island of Flores, with some experts insisting they were descended from Homo erectus and others saying evolution could not account for their small brains.
About a metre (three feet) tall and weighing 30 kilos (65 pounds), the tiny, tool-making hunters may have roamed the remote island as recently as 8,000 years ago. Their fossils are about 18,000 years old.
Many scientists have said Homo floresiensis, as the creature is now formally known, was a prehistoric human stunted by natural selection over millennia through a process called insular dwarfing.
Others countered that even this evolutionary shrinking, well documented in island-bound animals, could not account for the chimpanzee-sized brain -- just a third the size of that in a modern human being.
The only plausible explanation, they insisted, was that the handful of specimens found had a genetic disorder resulting in an abnormally small skull or that they suffered from "dwarf cretinism" caused by deficient thyroids.
Two new studies in the British journal Nature go a long way toward settling the debate.
A team led by William Jungers of Stony Brook University in New York tackled the problem by analysing the hobbit's foot.
In some ways it is very human. The big toe is aligned with the others and the joints make it possible to extend the toes as the body's full weight falls on the foot -- attributes not found in great apes.
But in other respects it is startlingly primitive: far longer than its modern human equivalent and equipped with a very small big toe, long and curved lateral toes, and a weight-bearing structure closer to a chimpanzee's.
Recent archaeological evidence from Kenya shows that the modern foot evolved more than 1.5 million years ago, most likely in Homo erectus.
So unless the Flores hobbits became more primitive over time -- considered extremely unlikely -- they must have branched off the human line at an even earlier date.
For Jungers and colleagues, this suggests their ancestor was not Homo erectus "but instead some other more primitive hominin whose dispersal into southeast Asia is still undocumented."
Companion studies published by the Journal of Human Evolution bolster this theory and conjecture that these more ancient forebears may be the still poorly understood Homo habilis.
In any case, Homo floresiensis would be confirmed as a separate species.
But what still has not been explained the hobbit's inordinately small brain.
That's where hippos come into the picture.
Eleanor Weston and Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum in London compared fossils of several species of ancient hippos found on the island of Madagascar with the mainland ancestors from which they had evolved.
They were surprised to find that insular dwarfing -- driven by the need to adapt to an island environment -- shrank their brains far more than had previously been thought possible.
"Whatever the explanation for the tiny brain of H. floresiensis relative to its body size, our evidence suggests that insular dwarfing could have played a role in its evolution," they conclude.
While the new studies answer some questions, they also raise new ones sure to spark fresh debate, Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman said in Nature.
Only more fossil evidence will indicate whether the hobbits of Flores evolved from Homo erectus, whose traces have been found throughout Eurasia, or from an even more ancient lineage not yet found outside Africa, he said.
The Mystery of the Human Hobbit (Video)
New twist in Hobbit-human debate
Master of ‘Rings’ to Tackle ‘Hobbit’
Yes, it's a Hobbit. The debate that has divided science is solved at last (sort of)
Ancient 'Hobbit' not a malformed human
Hobbit cave digs set to restart
Lloyd Pye - Everything you Know is Wrong (Video)
Bigfoot hobbit could be ancient island human
Latest News from our Front Page
Pre-historic tokens used in conjunction with cuneiform
2014 07 22
An archaeological dig in southeast Turkey has uncovered a large number of clay tokens that were used as records of trade until the advent of writing, or so it had been believed. But a new find of tokens, dates from a time when writing was commonplace – thousands of years after it was previously assumed this technology had become obsolete.
Are immigration opponents Nazis?
2014 07 22
It seems the usual suspects are calling anyone who opposes unlimited immigration to be a "Nazi". The Left seems to be in constant fear of "Nazis" that lurk in public policy discussions and I assume under their beds. If you oppose any Leftist position, you are a.... take a wild guess...wait for it.... a NAZI! Tim Wise recently went ...
What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine?
2014 07 22
Exclusive: The U.S. media’s Ukraine bias has been obvious, siding with the Kiev regime and bashing ethnic Russian rebels and Russia’s President Putin. But now – with the scramble to blame Putin for the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down – the shoddy journalism has grown truly dangerous, says Robert Parry.
In the heat of the U.S. media’s latest war hysteria – rushing to ...
Oh, Great: Robots Are Set to Conduct National Security Clearance Interviews
2014 07 22
Advancing a career in the US government might soon require an interview with a computer-generated head who wants to know about that time you took ketamine.
Psychologists at the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) are developing an interview system that uses a responsive on-screen avatar for the first stage of the national security clearance process.
Initial screening for a variety ...
Is Anything on the Internet Real Anymore?
2014 07 22
Is there anybody…out there?
I promise I’m a real person asking this question and typing this article…but beyond that, I can’t promise much else about anything you or I see on the Internet.
This article on ZDNet, “GCHQ’s dark arts: Leaked documents reveal online manipulation, Facebook, YouTube snooping,” confirms — beyond a shadow of any possible doubt — that a barrage of ...
|More News » |