New study concludes ‘Hobbit’ fossils represent a new species

December 18, 2008

(ChattahBox) — A new study concludes that fossilized skeletons resembling a mythical “hobbit” creature represent an entirely new species in humanity’s evolutionary chain.

The fossilized hominid skeletons of the so-called “hobbit people,” were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, and controversy has surrounded Homo floresiensis ever since.

The main debate among scientists was whether the 18,000-year-old remains merely belong to a diminutive population of modern-day humans (with one individual exhibiting “microcephaly,” an abnormally small head) or represent a previously unrecognized branch in humanity’s family tree.

University of Minnesota Anthropology professor Kieran McNulty (along with colleague Karen Baab of Stony Brook University in New York) using 3D modeling methods, compared the cranial features of the original “hobbit” skull to those of a simulated fossil human were able to demonstrate conclusively that the skull fits the expectations for a small fossil hominin species and not a modern human. The results of the study suggest that the theorized “hobbit” species may have undergone a process of size reduction after branching off from Homo erectus (one of modern day humanity’s distant ancestors) or even something more primitive.

“[Homo floresiensis] is the most exciting discovery in probably the last 50 years,” said McNulty. “The specimens have skulls that resemble something that died a million years earlier, and other body parts reminiscent of our three-million-year-old human ancestors, yet they lived until very recently — contemporaries with modern humans.”

Public interest in the discovery, analysis and implications of Flores “hobbits” has been high ever since 2003, inspiring several television specials (including a recent episode of “NOVA” entitled “Alien From Earth”) and other media attention.

“I think the majority of researchers favor recognizing this as a new species,” McNulty said about the categorization of Homo floresiensis. “The evidence is becoming overwhelming, and this study helps confirm that view.”

Their study was published online this month in the Journal of Human Evolution.


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