Sunday, October 01, 2006

Scientists: 'Hobbit' was ancestor of pygmy

Scientists: 'Hobbit' was ancestor of pygmy, CNN, August 22, 2006 ...

[Graphic: Comparison of skulls of `Hobbit' (left) and modern human, BBC]

Continuing with reducing my unposted backlog from August!

HONG KONG, China (Reuters) -- Skeletal remains of a hominoid nicknamed "hobbit" and found in a cave on a remote Indonesian island are from an ancestor of human pygmies still living there today, scientists say. This August CNN article has disappeared. However, see this Sydney Morning Herald article which seems to be the same. See also The Sunday Times. And articles in Discovery News and TIME about Homo floresiensis being just a diseased pygmy.

Previous researchers concluded in 2004 that the remains on Flores island represented a new species of human, "Homo floresiensis", which was about 3-feet tall with brains roughly the size of grapefruits. But in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, a team led by Robert Eckhardt, professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology at Pennsylvania State University, disputed those findings. The international research team said only one reasonably complete skeleton, classified as "LB1", was unearthed and it probably belonged to an early human suffering from microencephaly, a condition where the head and brain are abnormally small. Other skeletal parts were found in the cave, but no other cranial parts were unearthed. "LB1 is not a normal member of a new species, but an abnormal member of our own," said Eckhardt. Eckhardt's team said four major areas of evidence proved the 2004 evaluation wrong. The 2004 theory asserted that early human ancestors traveled to the island about 840,000 years ago, evolved into the new species, and that there was no subsequent human migration to the island until they died out about 15,000 years ago. This is implausible given the evidence of modern humans in Australia at least ~40,000 years ago. It also seems ad hoc that the ancestors of H. floresiensis could cross the sea to get to Flores, but then their descendants could not cross the sea to get off that island.

But Eckhardt's team said this was false as pygmy elephants arrived on the island twice and during periods of low sea levels, Flores was isolated from other islands only by short distances. This made "repeated influxes by later humans not only possible, but likely," it said. Agreed.

The earlier team was also wrong to have compared the facial features of LB1 with those of Homo sapiens from Europe. LB1's face was also exceedingly asymmetrical, pointing to an "abnormal developmental disorder", Eckhardt's team said. It will be interesting to see the response from Prof. Michael Morwood and/or other new species Homo floresiensis advocates. My personal view has been all along that this is a type of Australopithecine (16-Sep-05; 16-Oct-05; 21-May-06). However, if this does turn out to be just a diseased pygmy Homo sapiens, then that will be very embarrassing for the field of Human Evolution!

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
Genesis 4:1-2a. 1Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man." 2Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. ...