Monday, February 05, 2007

First its microcephalic, now its not! Or is it?

A new article on the H. floresiensis remains by Dean Falk and colleagues indicates that the remains that the press have dubbed "Hobbits" from the island of Flores in Indonesia are actually not microcephalic, after all. It is just plain strange:

While the new technique suggests LB1 was not a microcephalic, it does not rule out that it was not a Homo sapiens.

As evidence of that, Falk points to what she says are several advanced features of LB1's brain that are unlike those of modern humans or any other known hominid species.

"What we have is a little tiny brain that has four features that you can see with your eyes that are advanced and distributed from front to middle to back," Falk said. "In other words, this thing appears to be globally rewired. Those are really advanced features. They're not like humans, they're not like anything.

Some are not convinced:

Robert Martin, curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, is not convinced by the new evidence.

One of his major criticisms has to do with the sample of microcephalic skulls the team used. "They're being a bit naughty about this," Martin said in a telephone interview. "Four of the nine microcephalics were not adults."

Falk's team maintains its inclusion of young skulls is justified because microcephalics are generally believed to achieve maximum cranial capacity by around four years of age. Martin, who criticized a similar comparison done by Falk's team in 2005 as flawed, again disagrees. "What we're saying is LB1 was definitely an adult. If LB1 was a microcephalic, he was one with a mild condition who managed to survive into adulthood," he said. "So the proper comparison is with microcephalics with a mild condition who were adults."

"I don't have any problems with having new hominid species," Martin added. "I just don't think this is one of them."

I am looking forward to how this plays out. We have not seen the last of this controversy, given the significance of the H. floresiensis remains.

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