The Hobbit Enigma: Semi-Liveblogging the Documentary

John Scanlon brought an interesting documentary to my attention. The documentary is about Homo floresiensis and can be found here.


I am in the process of watching the first (of three) parts now. One of the things that occurred to me is that for all the arguments about H. floresiensis what gets overlooked is how the whole thing grew out of issues relevant to Australian and Pacific archaeology. Also overlooked is the implications for the peopling of the Pacific.
Wow, Holloway plays the trumpet (I used to play the trumpet)!
Okay, part one was interesting…
Wohoo, St. Louis gets a nod in part two
Huh, that’s interesting. Even if H. floresiensis is “real” they couldn’t have made tools because their brain was too small. Yet even capuchins use tools. Lots of primates do, so this isn’t that convincing (and I readily grant that there is a difference between using tools and making tools).
Two jaws with the same premolar “anomaly” ? More importantly all the teeth seem to fit in both jaws, hence not pathology but evolution.
Now they are on to Tocheri’s (he plays the piano) stuff on the wrist.
Chimps cracking nuts – a subtle response to the tool argument? H. floresiensis wrist similar to early humans and apes.
H. floresiensis skeptics are the equivalent to flat-earthers? That’s a bit ugly…
Part two got hung up around 16 minutes. On to part three.
Didn’t like their characterization of the human fossil record…
Two assumptions: humans evolved in Africa and large brains set us apart from apes. H. floresiensis upsets these assumptions and that is why the critics disagree…
What did H. floresiensis evolve from. This is a good question. Most of the argument about brain size revolves around scaling down anatomically modern humans and you can’t get to H. floresiensis from that. One of the prime candidates is H. erectus “tall and big brained” as the video describes them, but as the Spoor paper from last year shows females were somewhat smaller and their seems to be more dimorphism in H. erectus than previously thought.
Island dwarfism…
Jungers: H. floresiensis not a dwarf erectus…
It was small when it arrived, so maybe it evolved from australopithecines (Hmmm, there is a lot of parallel evolution in primates)
Lucy! Her sacrum fits the LB! pelvis!
But, there should be other australopithecine-like fossils in Asia, where are they? Hidden lineages? I don’t really find this part convincing…
Asian savannas and their possible role in human evolution – good question…
Dmanisi…
Interesting documentary, thanks John!

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6 Responses

  1. There is also the possibility that H. floresiensis was descended from H. habilis or H. georgicus. Most likely, in either case, from species intermediary to habilis/georgicus and floresiensis.

  2. It seems to me that this controversy is unnecessarily heated. Why couldn’t H. erectus become dwarfed on an island? Because the Nariokotome boy was tall on the African savannah? But the Dmanisi H. erectus was relatively small, no doubt because life was a bit tougher that far north, where it was cooler, where those early folk did not wear clothes or make fire on a regular basis or build houses, or possibly even live in caves. So, by the time they wandered off to Southeast Asia, they may really have been a bit smaller than Nariokotome’s parents. Stuck on an island, some got much smaller. Others eventually became taller again, where Java is now, because they once again lived in a warm, fertile area where the living was much better. If we look at other types of animals, like mammoths and foxes, they too become large where resources are good, but dwarfed on islands where resources are quite limited. H. erectus made tools, but only of a limited sort, and probably had only the most basic type of speech, one word at a time, like babies just starting to talk. So evolution probably worked its “magic” on them in the same way. After all, even H. sapiens became relatively short and stocky in the Arctic (Inuit), making far better tools, with fully developed language, and with advanced social skills! This is in comparison to the tall and thin Maasai of southeast Africa (Nariokotome country).
    So, no need to invoke H. habilis, Lucy, Laron syndrome, microcephaly, or any of the other far-fetched notions that have been tossed into the ring. Early humans were subject to the same evolutionary pressures as other animals. Because they WERE animals. Just a bit more clever ones.

  3. Afarensis, you seem to be missing before “tall and big brained”.

  4. Something went wrong between preview and post – trying again:
    Afarensis, you seem to be missing a close italic tag before”tall and big brained”.

  5. The rift valleys of East Africa have been well explored with respect to human evolution. Asia has not. Homo georgicus tells us that much is unknown about early man in Eurasia.

  6. Sorry for the late comment here, but for some reason, I was unable to link to this article for a couple of days. I was unable to link to anything Afarensis posted for a couple of days. Don’t ask why. In any case, I am bascally “agnostic” about who or what the Flores hominids may or may not be. Basically, I’ve heard credible sounding arguments on both sides, and I’ve encountered “believers” who are iabsolutely sure that the Flores population represents something significant in the evolution of the genus Homo. But for my money, I haven’t seen anything really definitivfe, one waor another. So, as far as I’m concerned, the “Hobbit Wars” are still going on, and probably(this being Paleoanthropologyland), will be going on without a conclusion for some time to come.
    Anne G

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