Monday, March 08, 2010

"Hobbits" Redux

An article that originated with the AP and appeared nearly everywhere yesterday addresses the consensus about the Liang Bua remains called Homo floresiensis. Since their discovery, there have been largely two schools of thought about what the hominid remains represent: pathological deformation involving microcephaly or representatives of a new species of hominid. As Michael Casey of the AP notes:
The feud has played out in top scientific journals. But a growing consensus has emerged among experts on human origin that this is indeed a separate and primitive species that lived in relatively modern times - 17,000 to 100,000 years ago. The November issue of the highly respected Journal of Human Evolution was dedicated to the Flores findings and included a dozen studies supporting the hobbit as a new species.

Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said the critics are "very much in the minority now." He said that he just returned from a meeting in Arizona of more than two dozen experts on human origins and found widespread support there for the new-species theory. No one, he said, "took the view that this was some weird, pathological freak."

William L. Jungers, a paleoanthropologist at Stony Brook University Medical Center who co-edited the Journal of Human Evolution issue, insisted the debate was over. He has published a study of the hobbit's feet which found it had traits associated with both modern humans and apes.

"This is a new species that cannot be explained by any known pathology," Jungers said.
Cladistic analysis by Argue suggests that H. floresiensis split from the main line either before or after the Homo habilis branch. It is important to note that this kind of find doesn't overturn evolution or even human evolution, it just puts new wrinkles into the picture of hominid origins. Interesting ones at that.

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