Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chris Stringer on Human Origins and Hobbits

There is a lengthy post in the Telegraph written by Chris Stringer, one of the architects of the modern human origins debate, on the enigma that is Homo floresiensis, the so-called “hobbits” (a name that every biological anthropologist detests, by the way). He writes:

So who were these Hobbits, and where did they come from? At first, it was assumed that they were castaways, descendants of Homo erectus who had somehow got to Flores, perhaps by boat. Due to the limited resources available on their new island home, the species then started to shrink (a process known as island dwarfing).

The latest studies of the Hobbit bones, however, have led to the radical idea that these tiny people were in fact descended from something even more primitive than Homo erectus – yet another species, whose ancestors emerged from Africa two million years ago or more, and then evolved in isolation in south-east Asia, finally disappearing only within the last 20 millennia.

Truth be told, the discovery at Liang Bua caught everyone with their pants down. We really have no idea how these hominins could have survived in this way for this long without interacting with other populations that came and went, both Homo erectus and Homo sapiens. It is going to be a long time before we understand just what went on there.

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