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Prehistoric World

More Homo Floresiensis Finds

Edited from BBC News, 11 October 2005

In 2004, scientists discovered more remains of the strange, small people who once lived on the island of Flores, Indonesia.

The announcement, which detailed a single, partial skeleton, caused a sensation when it was claimed to be a human species which was new to science. Homo floresiensis, as it was called, was little more than a metre tall and apparently lived 18,000 years ago [a figure which has since been revised upwards].

In 2005 the same team announced via the Nature journal that it had skeletal remains from at least nine of the 'Hobbit-like' individuals. The new discoveries included 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, were able to state that the specimens had helped to build a more rounded picture of LB1, with additional evidence of the little people's hunting and fire-making abilities.

The researchers added that they were more convinced than ever that Homo floresiensis represented a distinct species and not some diseased modern human individual (Homo sapiens) as some sceptics had suggested.

The finds further demonstrated that LB1 was not just an aberrant or pathological individual but was representative of a long-term population. A critical line in the argument is the length of time which the latest collection of remains represented - possibly 80,000 years - making a disease explanation for the cause of the little people's stature and shape an unlikely one.

The team contended that Homo floresiensis, with its 380-cubic-cm-sized brain, was 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, the consensus has been forming that it descended from Homo erectus, a long-extinct early-human species which was known to have populated 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 was to be confirmed, then the island's earliest inhabitants should be larger than the Liang Bua fossils; and if dwarfing occurred gradually, then it may even be possible to find fossils intermediate in size and shape between floresiensis and its ancestor.

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



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