Tuesday, October 31, 2006

 

Bad News For Tolkien Fans - Flores 'Hobbit' Is Just A Miniman

It was a discovery that excited scientists and JRR Tolkien fans alike. When the skull of a tiny human-like creature was unearthed in Flores, Indonesia, in 2003, it was seen by many as evidence that an unknown humanoid species had once lived in the rainforests.

But now scientists from Roehampton University have debunked the myth of the living hobbit, claiming he was merely a human with a small head.

Dr Robert Martin and Dr Ann M. Maclarnon of the School of Human and Life Sciences at Roehampton (UK) led the team of scientists, which concluded the 18,000-year-old remains display the symptoms of microcephaly - a condition which leaves its human sufferers with an undersize skull.

Their findings will be published in scientists' forum the Anatomical Record in November. [Continued at title link] [Hobbits]

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Based on the paper:

Flores hominid: New species or microcephalic dwarf?
Robert D. Martin, Ann M. MacLarnon, James L. Phillips, William B. Dobyns
The Anatomical Record Part A: Discoveries in Molecular, Cellular, and Evolutionary Biology
Volume 288A, Issue 11, 2006. Pages 1123-1145
DOI: 10.1002/ar.a.20389

The proposed new hominid Homo floresiensis is based on specimens from cave deposits on the Indonesian island Flores. The primary evidence, dated at 18,000 y, is a skull and partial skeleton of a very small but dentally adult individual (LB1). Incomplete specimens are attributed to eight additional individuals. Stone tools at the site are also attributed to H. floresiensis. The discoverers interpreted H. floresiensis as an insular dwarf derived from Homo erectus, but others see LB1 as a small-bodied microcephalic Homo sapiens. Study of virtual endocasts, including LB1 and a European microcephalic, purportedly excluded microcephaly, but reconsideration reveals several problems. The cranial capacity of LB1 ( 400 cc) is smaller than in any other known hominid less than 3.5 Ma and is far too small to derive from Homo erectus by normal dwarfing. By contrast, some associated tools were generated with a prepared-core technique previously unknown for H. erectus, including bladelets otherwise associated exclusively with H. sapiens. The single European microcephalic skull used in comparing virtual endocasts was particularly unsuitable. The specimen was a cast, not the original skull (traced to Stuttgart), from a 10-year-old child with massive pathology. Moreover, the calotte does not fit well with the rest of the cast, probably being a later addition of unknown history. Consideration of various forms of human microcephaly and of two adult specimens indicates that LB1 could well be a microcephalic Homo sapiens. This is the most likely explanation for the incongruous association of a small-brained recent hominid with advanced stone tools. Anat Rec Part A, 288A:1123-1145, 2006.

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