Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Feet of H. floresiensis

John Noble Wilford has an article in (yes, I know he writes for the New York Times) on the feet of Homo floresiensis, found on Palau and Flores, in Indonesia. He writes:
Now the examination of lower limbs and especially an almost complete left foot and parts of the right, the researchers reported, shows that the species walked upright, like other known hominids. There were five toes, as in other primates, but the big toe was stubby, more like a chimp’s.

Stranger still was the size of the feet — more than seven and a half inches long, out of proportion to its short lower limbs. The imbalance evoked the physiology of some African apes, but it has never before been seen in hominids.

And then there were those flat feet. Humans sometimes have fallen arches and flat feet, but scientists noted that this was no human foot. The navicular bone, which helps form the arch in the modern foot, was especially primitive, more akin to one in great apes. Without a strong arch — that is, flat-footed — the hominid would have lacked the spring-like action needed for efficient running. It could walk, but not run like humans.

Weighing the new evidence, the research team led by William L. Jungers, a paleoanthropologist at the Stony Brook Medical Center on Long Island, concluded that “the foot of H. floresiensis exhibits a broad array of primitive features that are not seen in modern humans
of any body size.”
At this point, the hominid bush got bushier:
Dr. Jungers and his colleagues raised the possibility that the ancestor of the species was not Homo erectus, as had been the original assumption. H. erectus is known as the earliest hominid to leave Africa and make its way across Asia. At a symposium two weeks ago, several scientists edged toward the view that the so-called hobbits emerged from another, more primitive hominid ancestor.
This is possible. We already know that hominids were at the gates of Europe, with the discovery of the Dmanisi hominids that are primitive even for Homo erectus/ergaster. Curiouser and curiouser.

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