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Flores find a clear misfit for human evolution sequence?

In 2004, a find of some very small humans (about a metre tall) was announced. They lived on the Indonesian island of Flores from about 93 000 years ago to about 12 000 years ago. At Access Research Network, Robert Deyes, in Homo Floresiensis: The Flower That Is Shaking The Human Evo Tree,

… what is becoming clear from these studies is that in many aspects of its anatomy H. floresiensis presents us with a clear ‘misfit’ for the human evolutionary sequence. In the words of one review “[H. floresiensis] threatens to overturn our understanding of where we come from and the type of ancestors that have shared the human family tree” (Ref 4).

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While Gee’s wild speculation over missing species seems undeserved of the title of objective science, his concerns do tell of a crisis for evolutionary biologists. In short, H. floresiensis has today become the flower that is shaking the human evolutionary tree. Findings such as these turn our cherished notions of human evolution upside down since they show tool-making, small-brained hominin species living alongside humans as recently as 12,000 years ago.

Here’s Nova on the subject.

In my view, the two most significant facts about homo Flo are that (1) they basically lived like other early humans for the many tens of thousands of years for which we have records and that (2) small brains did not stop them from doing so. I would take the “new species” claims with caution.

My Deprogram column on that at Salvo 7 here doesn’t seem to be on line yet.

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4 Responses to Flores find a clear misfit for human evolution sequence?

  1. Haven’t they recently sequenced DNA from species that have been extinct for even longer than Homo Flo supposedly has been? Neanderthal, Mammoth, Cave Bear. Maybe they can sequence some Homo Flo DNA and see if it really was any different that us.

  2. Denyse

    You might be interested in having a look at Marlowe Hood’s article, Studies say ‘hobbit’ previously unknown species . The evidence from foot anatomy seems to suggest that the Hobbit was derived from a species even more primitve than Homo erectus.

    The Hobbit’s small brain is a surprise, but the article quotes a recent study showing that insular dwarfing shrank brain sizes pretty dramatically in ancient hippos living on the island of Madagascar.

  3. feebish

    The NOVA site that Denyse linked to above has an interview with Professor Mike Morwood, who answers readers’ questions on the Hobbit.

    A selection (headings and highlights mine – VJT):

    Hobbit DNA?

    Alan Cooper from the Centre for Ancient DNA in Adelaide, South Australia, and Svante Paabo from the Max Planck Institute in Germany have both tried to get DNA from the teeth of LB1 and LB6—unsuccessfully, unfortunately. But we have high hopes for some of the new finds made this year. These have not been handled and have been kept cool.

    Several types of hair were recovered from the Liang Bua deposits in the Pleistocene levels and are currently being studied by specialists. My guess is that the samples are from rodents and maybe Stegodon [an extinct genus of elephant]….

    We undertook major excavations at Liang Bua, and a priority in this work was to get “fresh” H. floresiensis remains that may yield hobbit DNA. New finds include a premolar tooth that has been kept unhandled and cool.

    Previous attempts to extract DNA from hobbit teeth by Prof. Alan Cooper and Prof. Svante Paabo were made a couple of years after the discovery and after the finds had been extensively handled, treated with acetone-based glue, and kept in hot, humid conditions in Jakarta. We now may have more luck with the new finds. (DNA has been recovered from pig remains from Liang Bua as old as 8,000 years.)

    And if DNA was found it would not only confirm the species-status of hobbit, but would also allow the “split” between their lineage and ours to be dated, and provide evidence for the hominin genotype at that time depth — 2 to 2.5 million years ago would be my estimate.

    Anatomy

    The hobbit has many characteristics more similar to australopithecines than to H. erectus (in the brain, jaw, premolars, pelvis, body proportions, etc.). But H. habilis or a similar early species cannot be ruled out….

    The hobbit remains are most similar to some hominin species previously only found in Africa.

    Many of the traits of H. floresiensis are more similar to australopithecines than they are to other early hominins. For instance, they comprise the only species known outside Africa with the primitive body proportions. Aspects of the brain, stature, jaw, premolars, pelvis, and feet have similar implications. But a H. habilis-like ancestor is still a possibility.

    Could the Hobbit Have Been A Dwarf?

    A paper has just been submitted by Dean Falk of Florida State University, Bill Jungers of Stony Brook University, New York, and colleagues showing how LB1 actually has almost nothing in common with Laron syndrome patients [a disorder that causes dwarfism - VJT], as defined in the medical literature.

    We have the remains of at least 14 H. floresiensis individuals now, including the almost complete skeleton, and they consistently have a whole range of very primitive traits — in their stature, body proportions, pelvis, shoulders, wrist, feet, mandibles, and premolars. Much of this evidence will be detailed in a coming special edition of the Journal of Human Evolution.

    Tools

    The stone artifacts associated with the hobbit are very similar to those found at Mata Menge, an 880,000-year-old site in the Soa Basin of central Flores. Mark Moore, who studied them for his Ph.D., also says they are like the “Developed Oldowan” found in Africa before 1.5 million years ago. Trouble is, most Southeast Asian stone artifacts throughout the sequence look similar, with recent changes usually being “add-ons” (e.g., bifacially flaked and ground adzes)….

    The stone artifacts are similar to those found in the Soa Basin of central Flores from 880,000 years ago, and also to some early African assemblages, e.g., the so-called “Developed Oldowan”….

    There are no wooden artifacts in the associated deposits, but some of the stone artifacts have evidence for wood-working, including use of bamboo! So almost certainly they made a wide range of artifacts from organic materials.

    The hobbit discovery challenges the idea that intelligence is directly proportional to brain size. The associated evidence definitely indicates that hobbits were smart, but significantly, there is no evidence for their use of pigments, decoration, or burial of the dead in the Pleistocene levels of Liang Bua—in contrast to lots of such evidence associated with modern human skeletal remains in the Holocene levels.

    How long has the Hobbit been on the island of Flores?

    Incidentally, if our assumption that the hominins of the Soa Basin in central Flores were the ancestors of hobbits is correct, then the hobbit lineage existed in isolation on Flores for about 880,000 years, i.e., about 35,000 generations.

    How bushy is the human evolutionary tree?

    Hundreds or thousands [of species - VJT] might be an over-estimate, but yes, the number of hominin species known now is probably only a small fraction of hominin species that once existed.

    I hope this answers somne of your questions, feebish.

  4. Yes, it does. Sounds like there will be some DNA results at some point. That will be interesting. Did so-called “modern humans” live on the island with Homo Flo? Are there artifacts of other cultures on the island, or just the midget culture? I would love to see cave drawings of little, tiny-headed dudes running around with their little stone tools.

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