Like Sands Through the Hourglass, These Are the Taxonomic Assessments of the Hobbit

The Journal of Human Evolution is going to have a special issue devoted to Homo floresiensis and word is leaking out on one of the articles in it. The Australian has the best article so far. I say that because it inspired a Homer Simpson like D’OH moment on my part. Here is why:

Brown initially argued that the hominins had evolved on Flores from Homo erectus, then thought to be the species that had left 840,000-year-old stone tools at another Flores site. Like many island species, the hobbits had dwarfed under evolutionary pressure in an environment with limited food and few competitors.

The classification struck at the heart of the debate over two competing models of human evolution, the “out of Africa” and multiregionalist theories. [emphasis mine - afarensis]

I’m not sure how I missed that subtext in the debate…

The article goes on to say:

The two drew some of the data from the scientific literature but made many measurements themselves. They scrutinised about 40 characteristics, including the thickness of tooth enamel, measured in fractions of a millimetre, the shape of tooth crowns and their roots, and diagnostic parts of the chin region. Deep statistical analysis put Homo floresiensis way outside the range of modern humans, including microcephalics.

Combined with other anatomical evidence, the results ruled out Asian Homo erectus as the progenitor. Both jawbones shared characteristics with Australopithecus and early Homo, and were closer to them than the Dmanisi skeletons were. The ancestral hobbits must have left Africa before the hominins who reached Dmanisi, Brown and Maeda reasoned.

“What will come from this is either the redefining of the genus Homo or the argument that this species has so many unique characteristics and so many features shared with australopithecines that it probably belongs in its own genus,” Brown tells HES.

Which, if memory serves, was Brown’s original position…

Update 1: Here is what I was referring to:

For example, we learn that Peter Brown absolutely hated the idea of calling them hobbits. We also learn that Brown wanted to name the find Sundapithecus tegakensis but was talked out of it by Morwood. Morwood had his own idea as to what the skeletons were:

I argued with Peter that the strange amalgam of traits we found on Liang Bua hominids most likely meant that the original population in Asia was very early in the line of Homo, possibly a transitional Australopithecus/Homo population, such as Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis – which appeared in East Africa around two million years ago. These constitute the earliest known species in genus Homo. Some researchers argue that because of their short stature, small brains and apelike body proportions, both these species should be referred to the earlier australopithecine genus, namely as australopithecus habilis and australopithecus rudolfensis, but you might expect such taxonomic blurring and uncertainty at times of transition. Was LB 1 another example of taxonomic blurring?

2 Responses

  1. I’d like to see a comparative study of H. floresiensis and H. georgicus; focusing on the older remains gathered at Dmansi. The more Australopithecine-like remains.

  2. Yes, that would be interestiing…

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