Homo floresiensis too!

8 February 2007

Dean Falk and table full of hominin brains. (Photo: Michelle Edmunds)

We’re still stalling on phugoid fliers, not to mention most beautiful bird #5. In the meantime you might care to read up on the latest chapter of tit-for-tat over the putative miniature hominin Homo floresiensis.

As we saw in a previous post, the discovery of H. floresiensis (quickly dubbed as a “hobbit” by the popular press) in the Ling Bua cave on the Indonesian island of Flores quickly sparked a heated debate. One camp maintained that the remains belonged to a previously undiscovered species of Homo that showed signs of insular dwarfism, a phenomenon seen in a great range of living and fossil island taxa including mammoths, dinosaurs, goats and rails. The opposition retorted that ‘H. floresiensis‘ weren’t a new species at all but plain old ordinary H. sapiens striken with some type of pathology such as microcephaly.

Four years after the discovery, the debate continues to rage. The latest installment is a paper by neuroanthropologist Dean Falk and colleagues appearing in, where else?, PNAS. Falk et al. examined computerized 3-D endocasts of the Ling Bua remains as well as known human microcephalics. Their conclusion: H. floresiensis is a new species and not a microcephalic.

As compelling as the new study may be, it’s quite unlikely to be the end of the debate. Nothing short of some fresh corroborative material, perhaps including some juvenile remains is likely to quell the skeptics. Fortunately, Ling Bua is being re-opened. Rumors of a ‘lower chamber’ at Ling Bua open the door to the emergence of much more interesting details from one of the greatest (for humans at least) scientific puzzles of the decade.

Further reading:

above links will take you to the abstract and the opportunity to request a reprint.

John Hawks’ anthropology weblog has extensive coverage of the H. floresiensis ‘wars’ and a thorough treatment of Falk’s new paper.

Carl Zimmer also has post on the new paper.

I’m not entirely sure why the background has gone fuzzy. Perhaps it has something to do with the dropped shadow.

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