Hobbit as a Separate Species: Update

Homo floresiensis skull compared with Homo sapiens skull

Homo floresiensis skull compared with Homo sapiens skull

In early January, we offered a review of Mike Morwood and Penny van Oosterzee’s A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the ‘Hobbits’ of Flores, Indonesia in A New Human: Return of the Hobbit, followed with a supplementary update here, and with earlier excerpts from the book posted here and here.

Now, a new study discussed in several recent articles warrants further updating:

In New Scientist, Ewen Callaway outlines the continuing controversy in “Bigfoot Hobbit Could Be Ancient Island Human”, with particular attention to the evidence adduced last year by Stony Brook anatomist William Jungers (see also Eleanor Weston’s brief entry on Island Dwarfism) and updated most recently in the latest issue of Nature. If you’re not a Nature subscriber, you’ll find an excellent brief recapitulation of the substance in EurekAlert!:

“The anatomy of the foot described in the new paper might finally answer the pathological modern vs. primitive population question. Although the foot is characteristic of a biped—being stiff and having no opposable big toe—many other traits fall outside of the range for modern humans. The H. floresiensis foot is very long in proportion to the lower limb and considerably more than half the length of the thighbone; modern human feet are relatively shorter at about half of the femur’s length. The stubby big toe of the hobbits is another primitive, chimp-like trait. But the pivotal clue comes from the navicular bone, an important tarsal bone that helps form the arch in a modern human foot. The ‘hobbit’ navicular bone is more akin to that found in great apes, which means that these hominins lacked an arch and were not efficient long-term runners.

“‘Arches are the hallmark of a modern human foot,’ explains Harcourt-Smith [paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, and one of the paper’s authors]. ‘This is another strong piece of the evidence that the “hobbit” was not like us.’”

As Jungers [another study author] suggests, “H. floresiensis is either an island-dwarfed descendant of H. erectus that not only underwent body-size reduction but also extensive evolutionary reversals, or, as our analysis suggests, it represents a new species full of primitive retentions from an ancestor that dispersed out of Africa much earlier than anyone would have predicted. Either way, the implications for human evolution are profound.”

For additional information and discussion of considerable interest see “Hobbits ‘Are A Separate Species’” from BBC News, “New Analysis Shows Hobbits Couldn’t Hustle” at E! Science News (where you’ll also find archives with a host of interesting articles on Homo floresiensis here), “‘Hobbits’ Couldn’t Hustle” at Science Daily, and “Hobbit Feet Suggest Ancient Origins” at Cosmos.

Update: For more on Dr. Weston’s island dwarfism hypothesis, see “Small Brain of Dwarf ‘Hobbit’ Explained By Hippo’s Island Life” in Science Daily.

Published in: on May 7, 2009 at 12:17 pm  Comments (1)