Friday, January 11, 2013

A better look at "hobbits"

Just over a meter tall, the "hobbits" of Flores weren't very impressive physically. They had longer arms than legs, and their sloping foreheads and chinlessness made them look less like us than we might picture.  However, they were still, as further confirmed by new fossils, genuine humans, as in a species in the genus Homo.  While their brains were the size of, or at least not much larger than, those of chimpanzees, those brains were developed enough to allow them stone tools and the use of fire.  (Intelligence is correlated with brain size and brain-to-body-size ratio, but isn't directly equivalent - the structure of the brain matters more.)   The tool-making is interesting, because their wrists and hands were more "primitive" (essentially, more apelike) than ours, but they managed. It seems too much to ask of "hobbits" that they should have oversized feet, but they actually did.  So where did H. floresiensis come from? The popular theory is that they were an "island dwarfed" population of Homo erectus, although H. erectus fossils show some features more advanced. DNA studies on the bones haven't been done yet, and we still have only one complete cranium, so there's a lot more to learn. 

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