© John Gurche/National Museum of Natural History
Homo floresiensis adult female - model of head.
It's been ten years since the bones of Homo floresiensis
, aka, the "hobbit" were uncovered in Liang Bua, a cave, on the island of Flores in Indonesia, and scientists still can't agree on the diminutive hominin's origins.
This month, the journal Nature
has printed a comment piece
by Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London and two pieces by Ewen Callaway, one a retrospective with interviews with the central players, and the other a podcast with the four principle scientists involved in the find - Bert Roberts, Thomas Sutikna, Dean Falk, and Stringer.
Did H. floresiensis
descend from Australopithecus, leaving Africa and somehow settling on Flores, or was it a case of an early member of our family tree finding its way to the island and then because of limited resources, evolving into a much smaller size? That's the central question in the debate.
The majority opinion has sided with the island effect, mostly because of the time frame - H. floresiensis
existed a mere 13,000 years ago, which means it was alive when other Homo sapiens
were about, thus it seemed to make sense that H. floresiensis was also a member that had become stranded on an island. But Stringer doesn't agree. In his commentary piece he notes the chin and jaw are more reminiscent of pre-human fossils, dating back approximately two million years.
Also, the body shape and tiny brain appear to be more primitive than humans. He says taken together, the evidence suggests a closer match with Australopithecus
, a pre-human group living in Africa which also includes the remains of the famous "Lucy" - and which also date back to approximately 1.2 million years ago.