History Files


Prehistoric World

More Homo Floresiensis Finds.

BBC News, 11 October 2005



Scientists have discovered more remains of the strange, small people that once lived on Flores island, Indonesia.

The announcement last year detailing a single, partial skeleton caused a sensation when it was claimed to be a human species new to science.

Homo floresiensis, as it was called, was little more than a metre tall and lived 18,000 years ago.

Now, the same team tells Nature journal it has skeletal remains from at least nine of the "Hobbit-like" individuals.

The new discoveries include missing parts of the old skeleton - designated LB1 after the caved dig site at Liang Bua - and a collection of other bones, such as jaw and cranial fragments, a vertebra, arm and leg bones, toes and fingers.

The team, led by Michael Morwood from the University of New England, Armidale, Australia, says the specimens have helped build a more rounded picture of LB1, with additional evidence of the little people's hunting and fire-making abilities.

The researchers say they are now more convinced than ever that Homo floresiensis represents a distinct species and not some diseased individual of modern human (Homo sapiens) as some sceptics have suggested.

Homo floresiensis

Homo floresiensis

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"The finds further demonstrate that LB1 is not just an aberrant or pathological individual but is representative of a long-term population," they write in Nature.

A critical line in their argument is the length of time which the new collection of remains represents - possibly 80,000 years - making a disease explanation for the cause of the little people's stature and shape an unlikely one.

The team contends that Homo floresiensis, with its 380-cubic-cm-sized brain, is the outcome of a phenomenon known as endemic or island dwarfing.

This sees isolated species, released from the pressures of predation but constrained by limited resources, evolving either smaller or larger forms than would otherwise be the case.

In the case of floresiensis, it is said the creature could have come out of Homo erectus, a long-extinct early-human species that was known to populate Flores about 800,000 years ago.

Daniel Lieberman, of Harvard University in Massachusetts, US, said further discoveries on the island would help settle the issue.

"If the island-dwarfing hypothesis is correct, then the island's earliest inhabitants should be larger than the Liang Bua fossils; and if dwarfing occurred gradually, then it might even be possible to find fossils intermediate in size and shape between floresiensis and its ancestor," he wrote in a commentary in Nature.

"More evidence on when Homo sapiens first arrived on Flores is also needed."



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