HOBBITS OF INDONESIA
Homo floresiensis In the early 2000s, scientists announced the discovery of the remains of seven hominids on the island of Flores, east of Bali, dated to 95,000 and 12,000 years ago. The bones were first thought to be children but were later confirmed to be a new hominid species, considerably smaller than modern humans, and thus nicknamed Hobbits. The finding received headlines around the globe and caused jaws to drop in astonishment throughout the scientific community. [Source: Mike Norwood, Thomas Sutikna and Richard Robert, National Geographic, April 2005]
The new hominids were given the name the Homo floresiernsis . They existed at the same time as modern humans and are thought to have descended from Homo erectus and arrived in Flores perhaps as long as 840,000 years, the period in which stone stools found on Flores have been dated. Hominids on the island had to have arrived by sea because even during ice ages reaching Flores required a 15 mile sea crossing. Dating was done with carbon dating of charcoal found near the fossils and luminescence dating of the sediments in which the fossils were found.
Remains dated to be 18,000 years old were found in September 2003 in a cave in eastern Flores known to the local Manggarai people as Liang Bua. The remains included the skull, pelvis, leg, arm and foot bones of a female; the lower jaw from another adult; and flaked stone tools, perhaps arrow heads or spear points. Wear on the teeth indicated the creatures were adults not children. The presence of a number of individuals the same size indicated the remains weren’t from modern human stunted by disease, malnutrition or dwarfism.
The bones were unearthed by a team of Australians and Indonesian scientists, led by Michael Morwood, an archaeologist at Australia’s University of New England, who later got into disputes over possession of the fossils, and their meaning. At one point excavations were stopped when the Indonesian Institute of Science banned digging in the cave. The bones were found 20 feet under the floor of the cave. One Indonesia scientist, Teuku Jacob, commandeered the bones and had them shipped to his house in Yogyakarta, in the process breaking some of the other bones and denying other team members access to them.
Websites and Resources: Modern Human Origins modernhumanorigins.com ; Talk Origins Index talkorigins.org/origins ; Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History amnh.org/exhibitions ; Time Space Chart Hominid Fossils Pictures msu.edu/~heslips ; Smithsonian Human Origins Program humanorigins.si.edu ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site becominghuman.org ; Human Evolution Images evolution-textbook.org ;Hominid Species talkorigins.org ; Institute of Human Origins iho.asu.edu ; Paleoanthropology Link talkorigins.org ; Britannica Human Evolution britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/275670/human-evolution ;Modern Human Origins modernhumanorigins.com ; Human Evolution handprint.com ; Paleoanthropology and Evolution Links unipv.it/webbio/dfpaleoa ;National Geographic Atlas of the Human Journey genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/atlas ; Yale Peabody Museum peabody.yale.edu/exhibits/fossils ; Humin Origins Washington State University wsu.edu/gened/learn-modules ; Book: The Human Evolution Source Book
Features of the Hobbits in Indonesia
The small hominids found on Flores stood only three feet tall and weighed only 55 pounds, about a third of the size of a modern human adult, and had brains considerably smaller than any other hominid, and even smaller than most chimpanzee adults. Their pelvis was wider than modern humans and homo erectus; their arms hung almost below the knees but their wrists bones were delicate implying that it was not a tree climber. The skull was pinched in at the temples like Homo erectus skulls found in Dmanisi, Georgia.
The anthropologist Matt Tocheri wrote: “The skeletal evidence suggests that adults of this species had extremely small brains (400 cubic centimeters), stood only about 1 meter (3'6") tall, and weighed around 30 kg (66 lbs). For their height, these individuals have large body masses, and in this regard appear more similar to earlier hominins like "Lucy" (Australopithecus afarensis) than they do to modern humans, including small and large-bodied people. The proportions between the upper arm (humerus) and upper leg (femur) also appear more similar to those in Australopithecus and Homo habilis than those of modern humans.
Homo floresiernsis are thought to have become so small through the process of island dwarfism, which cause some large species to grow smaller because food sources are limited and there is no threat from predators and causes some smaller animals to become larger because they lack competitors. On Flores scientists have also found the remains stegodons---extinct elephant ancestors which were about the size of a cow, or about a tenth of the size of an Asian elephant---and Flores giant rats, which are about five times the size of brown rats. Komodo dragons are found on islands near Flores. The stegodons are thought to have arrived by swimming. The rats and Komodo dragons perhaps hitched rides on flotsam.
Lifestyle of the Hobbits in Indonesia
Flores Homo floresiernsis is thought to have hunted and cooked giant rats and stegodons. The only predators they faces were Komodo dragons, which may have been hunted as well. Fireplaces, charred bones and thousands of stone tools have been found. The presence of spear points with cut marks if offered as evidence of hunting. Hunting 800-pound stegodons would have required some form of group hunting or incredible bravery for a 55-pound creature. Giant rats are still hunted by local people on Flores today.
A large volcanic eruption that occurred on Flores 11,000 years may have wiped out Homo floresiernsis . They and modern humans lived at the same time but there is no evidence that they met. Maybe some survived. Local islanders tell folk stories about hairy, pint-size people with flat foreheads called Ebu Gogo (“Grandmother who eats everything”) that stole their crops and moonshine and were “so greedy they even ate the plates.” Locals say the creatures were last seen about 300 years ago. The cave where floresiernsis was found is regarded as burial places of sinners who drowned in the biblical Great Flood.
The Homo floresiernsis brain was 380 cubic centimeters in size, compared to 1,350 cubic centimeters for a modern human and 900 cubic centimeters for homo erectus. CT scans of the skull reveal that even though it was the size of a chimpanzees brain it had features that are human-like and distinctive. There is evidence the Hobbit brain was wrinkled and had expanded temporal lobes like those of modern man. To build boats and carry out group hunts, it has been reasoned that they possessed language.
Archeology Sites on the Island of Flores
Many stone flake tools, dated between 800,000 and 900,000 years ago and ascribed to Homo Erectus, have been found on the island of Flores. The anthropologist Matt Tocheri wrote: “Flores is one of many Wallacean islands, which lie east of Wallace's Line and west of Lydekker's Line. Wallacean islands are interesting because they have rarely, if ever, been connected via land bridges to either the Asian continent to the west or the Greater Australian continent to the east. This longstanding separation from the surrounding continents has severely limited the ability of animal species to disperse either into or away from the Wallacean islands. Thus, on Flores there were only a small number of mammal and reptile species during the entire Pleistocene. These included komodo dragons and other smaller monitor lizards, crocodiles, several species of Stegodon (an extinct close relative of modern elephants), giant tortoise, and several kinds of small, medium, and large-bodied rats. [Source:Matt Tocheri, humanorigins.si.edu <<<]
“During the 1950s and 60s, a Dutch priest named Father Theodor Verhoeven lived and worked on Flores at a Catholic Seminary. Verhoeven had a keen interest in archeology and had studied it at university. While living on Flores, he identified dozens of archeological sites and conducted excavations at many of these, including the now famous site of Liang Bua where the "hobbits" of human evolution were discovered (Homo floresiensis). Verhoeven was the first to report and publish that stone tools were found in association with Stegodon remains in central Flores at several sites within the Soa Basin. He even argued that Homo erectus from Java was likely behind making the stone tools found on Flores and may have reached the island around 750,000 years ago. At the time, paleoanthropologists took little notice of Verhoeven's claims or if they did, they discounted them outright. <<<
“Almost thirty years later, an Indonesian-Dutch research team uncovered evidence at the Soa Basin which confirmed Verhoeven's original findings. This team even went further by dating some of the stone tools and fossils using paleomagnetism (a method of determining the age of ancient sediments) and showed they were probably around 700,000 years old. These new findings did not become widely known within the paleoanthropological community until additional sediments were dated using a different technique called zircon fission-track analysis. Thus, by the late 1990s more scientists were beginning to accept the possibility that another human species (likely Homo erectus) had crossed the Wallace Line and reached Flores well before our own species, Homo sapiens, had evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago. <<<
“In 2001, an Indonesian-Australian research team began excavations at a large limestone cave located in west central Flores. This cave, known as Liang Bua (which means "cool cave"), was first excavated by Father Verhoeven in 1965. Professor Raden Soejono, the leading archeologist in Indonesia, heard about Liang Bua from Verhoeven and conducted six different excavations there from the late 1970s until 1989. All of this early work at Liang Bua only explored deposits that occurred within the first three meters of the cave floor. These deposits are dated to within the last 10,000 years and contain considerable archeological and faunal evidence of modern human use of the cave, as well as skeletal remains of modern humans. However, in 2001 the new goals were to excavate deeper into the cave's stratigraphy to explore if modern or pre-modern humans were using Liang Bua prior to 10,000 years ago. In September of 2003, they got their answer. <<<
Discovery of Homo floresiensis
The first discovery, in 2003, was the 18,000-year-old bones of a woman whose skull was less than one-third the size of our own. As of 2008, the team had recovered bones from as many as nine such people, all about a meter, the most recent of whom lived about 12,000 years ago. Matt Tocheri wrote: “ On Saturday, September 6, 2003, Indonesian archeologist Wahyu Saptomo was overseeing the excavation of Sector VII at Liang Bua. Benyamin Tarus, one of the locally hired workers, was excavating the 2 x 2 meter square when all of a sudden the top of a skull began to reveal itself. Six meters beneath the surface of the cave, Wahyu immediately joined Benyamin and the two of them slowly and carefully removed some more sediment from around the top of the skull. Wahyu then asked Indonesian faunal expert Rokus Due Awe to inspect the excavated portion of the skull. Rokus told Wahyu that the skull definitely belonged to a hominin and most likely that of a small child given the size of its braincase. Two days later, the team returned to the site and Thomas Sutikna, the Indonesian archeologist in charge of the excavations, joined Wahyu at the bottom of the square. After several days, enough of the cranium and mandible had been exposed for Rokus to realize that this was no small child; instead, all of its teeth were permanent meaning that this was a fully grown adult. A few weeks later, the team had recovered the rest of this hominin's partial skeleton, the likes of which had never been discovered before. Today, this specimen is referred to as LB1 (Liang Bua 1), and is the holotype specimen for the species Homo floresiensis. [Source: Matt Tocheri, humanorigins.si.edu <<<]
“At the time of the discovery, the Liang Bua Research Team included specialists in archeology, geochronology, and faunal identification, but there was no physical anthropologist. Dr. Mike Morwood, the co-leader of the project, invited his colleague at the University of New England in Australia, Dr. Peter Brown, to lead the description and analysis of the skeletal remains. Dr. Brown is an expert on cranial, mandibular, and dental anatomy of early and modern humans and he agreed to apply his expertise to the study of the new bones from Liang Bua. This important scientific work resulted in the first descriptions of these skeletal remains in the journal Nature on October 28, 2004. This work also gave the scientific name, Homo floresiensis, to the hominin species that is represented by the skeletal material from the Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua. <<<
“Just before the two Nature articles on Homo floresiensis were published in 2004, the Liang Bua Research Team uncovered additional skeletal material. This included the arm bones of LB1, and several bones of another individual, LB6, including the mandible and other bones of the arm. Drs. Morwood and Brown, and other Indonesian and Australian members of the Liang Bua Research Team, described and analyzed these new skeletal remains of Homo floresiensis and again published their results in Nature on October 13, 2005. <<<
Implications of the Hobbits in Indonesia
The discovery of Homo floresiernsis had a profound impact on the study of ancient man and showed that the evolution of man was far more complex than previously thought and may have produced a whole menagerie of human creatures that resulted in dead ends. Before the discovery it was thought that Neanderthals were the only hominids that existed at the same time as modern humans. Another surprising thing is that floresiernsis fossils don’t resemble 1.6-million-year-old Homo erectus fossils found in Indonesia. They more closely resembles homo erectus 1.7-million-year-old fossils found in Dmanisi, Georgia. Some dismiss this interpretation of the fossils because it would represents a case of reverse-evolution, something regarded as impossible or at least unlikely.
Homo floresiernsis either had to an extremely good swimmer or a boat builder or a descendant of a good swimmer or boat builder to cross the strait between Flores and Komodo, the nearest large island, and the straits between Komodo, Sumbawa, Lombok and Bali, which were never connected by land bridges during the ice ages. The most likely explanation is that floresiernsis built boats, a surprisingly achievement for a creature with a brain smaller than a chimpanzee. One implication of this is that maybe a large brain isn’t as important as it has been made out to be.
Other Small Hominid Species
Fossils from another small hominid were found in Kenya in 2004. A skull fragment from a hominid dated to 900,000 years ago was found on a volcano named Mount Olorgesailie and thought to have been another dead end branch that evolved from homo erectus. A number of stone tools were found at the site along with bones of many animal that could have been hunted as prey. Otherwise it is difficult to make too many inferences from the finding because only a jawbone was found.
In 2003, scientists found the bones of 25 unusually small people in two caves in Palau, a group of islands about 1,600 kilometers north of Flores, The people were about four feet tall and appeared to have lived 1,400 to 3,000 years ago. They shared characteristics with the Flores people but had large almost normal-size modern brain cases.
H-floresiensis versus Cretan-microcephalic
In a report released on the online journal PloS One, Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who studied the Palau bones, said they indicated a brain size “possibly at the very low end or below that typically observed in modern, small-bodied humans.” Berger then hypothesized that “reduction in the size of the of the face and chin, large dental size and other feature noted here may in some cases be correlated of extreme body size reduction in H. Sapiens” and this supports “at least the possibility of H. sapiens perhaps some individuals expressing congenital abnormalities.”
Additionally, there a plenty of examples of small people that live today such as pygmies in Africa, Negritos in Southeast Asia and small tree-dwelling people in New Guinea.
Critics of Hobbits Species Conclusion and Other Short People in the Pacific
Morwood and Peter Brown, another paleoanthropologist at the University of New England, are the two principal scientists advancing the theory that Homo floresiernsis is separate species.
Critics of the inferences drawn from the “hobbit” bones have argued that belonged dwarfed or malformed Homo sapien and it was unwise to draw too many inferences from only one complete skeleton . Teuku Jacob, a respected Indonesian paleoanthropologist, believes the bones belong to modern humans deformed by microcephaly, a condition in which the brain fails to grow to its normal size, and has scanned the island of Flores for extremely short people that perhaps descended from them.
Homo floresiensis cave
In February 2008, Peter Obendfort of RMIT University of Melbourne said he found evidence of an enlarged pituitary gland on an image of the Flores skull, suggesting the individual may have suffered from cretinism, which can cause stunted growth and a small brain.
Morwood and Brown stand by their separate species thesis and say they have a lot of support from early human experts, including Tim D. White from Berkeley and Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum in London. Some scientists dispute the microcephaly explanation, saying that structure of Flores skull was not consistent with that of microcephaly sufferers. Dean Falk, a researcher at Florida State University, pronounced the creature’s brain unique by examining a complete model of the brain and by concluding the cerebellum looked healthy (those of microcephaly sufferers have an odd-protruding lobe) and large frontal lobes (associated with higher thought) and temporal lobes (associated with hearing, memory and emotion).
Bernard Wood, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University who has carefully studied the Flores bones, told the New York Times that the Flores skeleton and other fragments have “all sorts of intriguing morphology” that distinguishes them from modern humans. “All of these exotic explanations being proposed require the suspension of any fragment of common sense. They are seeking a much more exotic explanation than the one for a distinct species that looks like an earlier Homo.”
Were "Hobbits" Human?
Guy Gugliotta wrote in Smithsonian Magazine, “Some critics say that it would have been impossible for a hominid with a brain the size of an orange to make the sophisticated tools found at Ling Bua Cave—let alone hunt with them—and that they must have been crafted by modern humans. But supporters of the separate species hypothesis modeled the shape and structure of the Hobbit brain and say it could have made the tools. [Source: Guy Gugliotta, Smithsonian Magazine, July 2008 ==]
“When Smithsonian anthropologist Matthew Tocheri and other researchers analyzed the Hobbitt wrist, they found a primitive, wedge-shaped trapezoid bone common to great apes and early hominids but not to Neanderthals and modern humans. That fits a theory that Hobbits are less closely related to Homo sapiens than to Homo erectus—the human ancestor that is thought to have died out 100,000 years ago. Morwood has found crude Homo erectus-type stone tools on Flores that may be 840,000 years old. The skeptics retort that disease is a more likely explanation for the wrist bones. A study this year speculated that the Flores people could have suffered from hypothyroidism, a form of cretinism found relatively frequently in modern Indonesia that, the researchers say, could also produce deformed, primitive-appearing wrists. ==
“Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian's Human Origins Program, who once doubted that the Hobbits were a separate species, says he's changed his mind: "Flores was this wing in the building of human evolution that we didn't know about. There is no reason that 800,000 years of experimentation could not evolve a small but advanced brain." ==
Hobbit’s Primitive Body
In 2009, Kate Wong wrote in Scientific American, “New analyses are causing even the proponents to rethink important aspects of the original interpretation of the discovery. The recent findings are also forcing paleoanthropologists to reconsider established views of such watershed moments in human evolution as the initial migration out of Africa by hominins (the group that includes all the creatures in the human line since it branched away from chimps). [Source: Kate Wong, Scientific American, November 2009 *-*]
“Perhaps the most startling realization to emerge from the latest studies is how very primitive LB1’s body is in many respects. (To date, excavators have recovered the bones of an estimated 14 individuals from the site, but LB1 remains the most complete specimen by far.) From the outset, the specimen has invited comparisons to the 3.2-million-year-old Lucy—the best-known representative of a human ancestor called Australopithecus afarensis—because they were about the same height and had similarly small brains. But it turns out LB1 has much more than size in common with Lucy and other pre-erectus hominins. And a number of her features are downright apelike. *-*
“A particularly striking example of the bizarre morphology of the hobbits surfaced this past May 2009, when researchers led by William L. Jungers of Stony Brook University published their analysis of LB1’s foot. The foot has a few modern features—for instance, the big toe is aligned with the other toes, as opposed to splaying out to the side as it does in apes and australopithecines. But by and large, it is old-fashioned. Measuring around 20 centimeters in length, LB1’s foot is 70 percent as long as her short thighbone, a ratio unheard of for a member of the human family. The foot of a modern human, in contrast, is on average 55 percent as long as the femur. The closest match to LB1 in this regard, aside from, perhaps, the large-footed hobbits of Tolkien’s imagination, is a bonobo. Furthermore, LB1’s big toe is short, her other toes are long and slightly curved, and her foot lacks a proper arch—all primitive traits. *-*
“A foot like this one has never been seen before in the human fossil record,” Jungers declared in a statement released to the press. It would not have made running easy. Characteristics of the pelvis, leg and foot make clear that the hobbits walked upright. But with their short legs and relatively long feet, they would have had to use a high-stepping gait to avoid dragging their toes on the ground. Thus, although they could probably sprint short distances—say, to avoid becoming dinner for one of the Komodo dragons that patrolled Flores—they would not have won any marathons. *-*
“If the foot were the only part of the hobbit to exhibit such primitive traits, scientists might have an easier time upholding the idea that H. floresiensis is a dwarfed descendant of H. erectus and just chalking the foot morphology up to an evolutionary reversal that occurred as a consequence of dwarfing. But the fact is that archaic features are found throughout the entire skeleton of LB1. A bone in the wrist called the trapezoid, which in our own species is shaped like a boot, is instead shaped like a pyramid, as it is in apes; the clavicle is short and quite curved, in contrast to the longer, straighter clavicle that occurs in hominins of modern body form; the pelvis is basin-shaped, as in australopithecines, rather than funnel-shaped, as in H. erectus and other later Homo species. The list goes on. *-*
“Indeed, from the neck down LB1 looks more like Lucy and the other australopithecines than Homo. But then there is the complicated matter of her skull. Although it encased a grapefruit-size brain measuring just 417 cubic centimeters—a volume within the range of chimpanzees and australopithecines—other cranial features, such as the narrow nose and prominent brow arches over each eye socket, mark LB1 as a member of our genus, Homo. *-*
Rethinking Hobbit Origins
Kate Wong wrote in Scientific American, “Fossils that combine Homo-like skull characteristics with primitive traits in the trunk and limbs are not unprecedented. The earliest members of our genus, such as H. habilis, also exhibit a hodgepodge of old and new. Thus, as details of the hobbits’ postcranial skeletons have emerged, researchers have increasingly wondered whether the little Floresians might belong to a primitive Homo species, rather than having descended from H. erectus, which scientists believe had modern body proportions. [Source: Kate Wong, Scientific American, November 2009 *-*]
“A new analysis conducted by doctoral candidate Debbie Argue of the Australian National University in Canberra and her colleagues bolsters this view. To tackle the problem of how the hobbits are related to other members of the human family, the team employed cladistics—a method that looks at shared, novel traits to work out relationships among organisms—comparing anatomical characteristics of LB1 to those of other members of the human family, as well as apes.*-*
“In a paper in press at the Journal of Human Evolution, Argue and her collaborators report that their results suggest two possible positions for the H. floresiensis branch of the hominin family tree. The first is that H. floresiensis evolved after a hominin called H. rudolfensis, which arose some 2.3 million years ago but before H. habilis, which appeared roughly two million years ago. The second is that it emerged after H. habilis but still well before H. erectus, which arose around 1.8 million years ago. More important, Argue’s team found no support for a close relationship between H. floresiensis and H. erectus, thereby dealing a blow to the theory that the hobbits were the product of island dwarfing of H. erectus. (The study also rejected the hypothesis that hobbits belong to our own species.) *-*
“If the hobbits are a very early species of Homo that predates H. erectus, that positioning on the family tree would go a long way toward accounting for LB1’s tiny brain, because the earliest members of our genus had significantly less gray matter than the average H. erectus possessed. But Argue’s findings do not solve the brain problem entirely. LB1 aside, the smallest known noggin in the genus Homo is a H. habilis specimen with an estimated cranial capacity of 509 cubic centimeters. LB1’s brain was some 20 percent smaller than that. *-*
“Could island dwarfing still have played a role in determining the size of the hobbit’s brain? When the discovery team first attributed LB1’s wee brain to this phenomenon, critics complained that her brain was far smaller than it should be for a hominin of her body size, based on known scaling relationships. Mammals that undergo dwarfing typically exhibit only moderate reduction in brain size. But study results released this past May suggest that dwarfing of mammals on islands may present a special case. Eleanor Weston and Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum in London found that in several species of fossil hippopotamus that became dwarfed on the African island nation of Madagascar, brain size shrank significantly more than predicted by standard scaling models. Based on their hippo model, the study authors contend, even an ancestor the size of H. erectus could conceivably attain the brain and body proportions of LB1 through island dwarfing. The work on hippos has impressed researchers such as Harvard University’s Daniel Lieberman. In a commentary accompanying Weston and Lister’s report in Nature, Lieberman wrote that their findings “come to the rescue” in terms of explaining how H. floresiensis got such a small brain. *-*
“Although some specialists favor the original interpretation of the hobbits, Mike Morwood of the University of Wollongong in Australia, who helps to coordinate the Liang Bua project, now thinks the ancestors of LB1 and the gang were early members of Homo who were already small—much smaller than even the tiniest known H. erectus individuals—when they arrived on Flores and then “maybe underwent a little insular dwarfing” once they got there.” *-*
Kate Wong wrote in Scientific American, ““Artifacts left behind by the hobbits support the claim that H. floresiensis is a very primitive hominin. Early reports on the initial discovery focused on the few stone tools found in the hobbit levels at Liang Bua that were surprisingly sophisticated for a such a small-brained creature—an observation that skeptics highlighted to support their contention that the hobbits were modern humans, not a new species. But subsequent analyses led by Mark W. Moore of the University of New England in Australia and Adam R. Brumm of the University of Cambridge have revealed the hobbit toolkit to be overall quite basic and in line with the implements produced by other small-brained hominins. The advanced appearance of a handful of the hobbit tools at Liang Bua, Moore and Brumm concluded, was produced by chance, which is not unexpected considering that the hobbits manufactured thousands of implements. [Source: Kate Wong, Scientific American, November 2009 *-*]
“To make their tools, the hobbits removed large flakes from rocks outside the cave and then struck smaller flakes off the large flakes inside the cave, employing the same simple stone-working techniques favored by humans at another site on Flores 50 kilometers east of Liang Bua called Mata Menge 880,000 years ago—long before modern humans showed up on the island. (The identity of the Mata Menge toolmakers is unknown, because no human remains have turned up there yet, but they conceivably could be the ancestors of the diminutive residents of Liang Bua.) Furthermore, the Liang Bua and Mata Menge tools bear a striking resemblance to artifacts from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania that date to between 1.2 million and 1.9 million years ago and were probably manufactured by H. habilis. *-*
Implications of the New Hobbit Theories
Kate Wong wrote in Scientific American, “In some ways, the latest theory about the enigmatic Flores bones is even more revolutionary that the original claim. “The possibility that a very primitive member of the genus Homo left Africa, perhaps roughly two million years ago, and that a descendant population persisted until only several thousand years ago, is one of the more provocative hypotheses to have emerged in paleoanthropology during the past few years,” reflects David S. Strait of the University at Albany. Scientists have long believed that H. erectus was the first member of the human family to march out of the natal continent and colonize new lands, because that is the hominin whose remains appear outside of Africa earliest in the fossil record. In explanation, it was proposed that humans needed to evolve large brains and long striding limbs and to invent sophisticated technology before they could finally leave their homeland. [Source: Kate Wong, Scientific American, November 2009 *-*]
“Today the oldest unequivocal evidence of humans outside of Africa comes from the Republic of Georgia, where researchers have recovered H. erectus remains dating to 1.78 million years ago. The discovery of the Georgian remains dispelled that notion of a brawny trailblazer with a tricked-out toolkit, because they were on the small side for H. erectus, and they made Oldowan tools, rather than the advanced, so-called Acheulean implements experts expected the first pioneers to make. Nevertheless, they were H. erectus. *-*
“But if proponents of the new view of hobbits are right, the first intercontinental migrations were undertaken hundreds of thousands of years earlier than that—and by a fundamentally different kind of human, one that arguably had more in common with primitive little Lucy than the colonizer paleoanthropologists had envisioned. This scenario implies that scientists could conceivably locate a long-lost chapter of human prehistory in the form of a two-million-year record of this primitive pioneer stretching between Africa and Southeast Asia if they look in the right places. *-*
“This suggestion does not sit well with some researchers. “The further back we try to push the divergence of the Flores [hominin], the more difficult it becomes to explain why a [hominin] lineage that must have originated in Africa has left only one trace on the tiny island of Flores,” comments primate evolution expert Robert Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago. Martin remains unconvinced that H. floresiensis is a legitimate new species. In his view, the possibility that LB1—the only hobbit whose brain size is known—was a modern human with an as yet unidentified disorder that gave rise to a small brain has not been ruled out. The question, he says, is whether such a condition can also explain the australopithecinelike body of LB1. *-*
“In the meantime, many scientists are welcoming the shake-up. LB1 is “a hominin that no one would be saying anything about if we found it in Africa two million years ago,” asserts Matthew W. Tocheri of the Smithsonian Institution, who has analyzed the wrist bones of the hobbits. “The problem is that we’re finding it in Indonesia in essentially modern times.” The good news, he adds, is that it suggests more such finds remain to be recovered. *-*
“Given how little we know about the Asian hominin record, there is plenty of room for surprises,” observes Robin W. Dennell of the University of Sheffield in England. Dennell has postulated that even the australopithecines might have left Africa, because the grasslands they had colonized in Africa by three million years ago extended into Asia. “What we need, of course, are more discoveries—from Flores, neighboring islands such as Sulawesi, mainland Southeast Asia or anywhere else in Asia,” he says. *-*
“Morwood, for his part, is attempting to do just that. In addition to the work at Liang Bua and Mata Menge, he is helping to coordinate two projects on Sulawesi. And he is eyeing Borneo, too. Searching the mainland for the ancestors of the Liang Bua hobbits will be difficult, however, because rocks of the right age are rarely exposed in this part of the world. But with stakes this high, such challenges are unlikely to prevent intrepid fossil hunters from trying. “If we don’t find something in the next 15 years or so in that part of the world, I might start wondering whether we got this wrong,” Tocheri reflects. “The predictions are that we should find a whole bunch more.” *-*
Continuing Research of Homo floresiensis
Matt Tocheri wrote: “As additional postcranial material of Homo floresiensis was being recovered, Dr. Morwood contacted Dr. Susan Larson and Dr. William Jungers, of Stony Brook University Medical Center. Drs. Larson and Jungers are experts on human evolutionary anatomy, particularly with regard to the functional morphology of the arms and legs. Dr. Larson has shown that the shoulder of Homo floresiensis is more like that in Homo erectus rather than modern humans, and Dr. Jungers has demonstrated many anatomical features of the "hobbit" foot that are shared with African apes and early hominins like Australopithecus afarensis (e.g., "Lucy"). Dr. Morwood also invited hominin brain expert Dr. Dean Falk to analyze the endocast of Homo floresiensis. Dr. Falk has identified several features in the "hobbit" brain that suggest neural reorganization despite its overall small size. Additional research focused on the paleobiology and archeology of Homo floresiensis by Drs. Morwood, Brown, Larson, Jungers, Falk, their many Indonesian colleagues, and a large international network of scientific experts, was recently published in a special issue of Journal of Human Evolution (November 2009). Discussions and summaries of some of the work included in that special issue will be presented on this web page over the coming weeks and months. [Source: Matt Tocheri, humanorigins.si.edu <<<]
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6) Falk, D., Hildebolt, C., Smith, K., Jungers, W., Larson, S., Morwood, M., Sutikna, T., Jatmiko, Wahyu Saptomo, E., Prior, F., 2009a. The type specimen of Homo floresiensis (LB1) did not have Laron Syndrome. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 140, 52–63; 7) Falk, D., Hildebolt, C., Smith, K., Morwood, M.J., Sutikna, T., Jatmiko, Saptomo, E.W., Prior, F., 2009b. LB1’s virtual endocast, microcephaly and hominin brain evolution. Journal of Human Evolution 57, 597–607; 8) Jungers, W.L., Harcourt-Smith, W.E.H., Wunderlich, R.E., Tocheri, M.W., Larson, S.G., Sutikna, T., Rhokus Awe Due, Morwood, M.J., 2009a. The foot of Homo floresiensis. Nature 459, 81–84; 9) Jungers, W.L., Larson, S.G., Harcourt-Smith, W., Morwood, M.J., Sutikna, T., Rokhus Due Awe, Djubiantono, T., 2009b. Descriptions of the lower limb skeleton of Homo floresiensis. Journal of Human Evolution 57, 538–554; 10) Larson, S.G., Jungers,W., Tocheri, M.W., Orr, C.M., Morwood, M.J., Sutikna, T., Rokhus Due Awe, Djubiantono, T., 2009. Descriptions of the upper limb skeleton of Homo floresiensis. Journal of Human Evolution 57, 555–570;
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Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Mostly from National Geographic articles. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton?s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015