A new human species

by Chris Bertram on October 27, 2004

The BBC is reporting that scientists have discovered evidence of a new human species that outlasted the Neanderthals:

Scientists have discovered a new and tiny species of human that lived in Indonesia at the same time our own ancestors were colonising the world. The new species – dubbed “the Hobbit” due to its small size – lived on Flores island until at least 12,000 years ago.

{ 16 comments }

1

Jeremy Osner 10.27.04 at 7:17 pm

Wow, cool — and the hunted dwarf elephants!

2

Barry Freed 10.27.04 at 8:04 pm

homo periannath, perhaps?

And I wonder if those dwarf elephants aren’t some distant cousin to the Mûmakil?

Yes, I was a LOTR geek for a long time. And I’ve yet to see Jackson’s ROTK. But I will geekishly admit to having joined the Mythopoeic Society when I was twelve.

3

Giles 10.27.04 at 8:13 pm

They then moved on to New Zealand where they can be observed to this day.

4

Njorl 10.27.04 at 9:33 pm

12,000 years old? Is there a reason to assume it is a different species? Their relationship in height to pygmies is aboput that of pygmies to west-Europeans. Height alone does not differentiate species.

5

HP 10.27.04 at 10:06 pm

Height alone does not differentiate species.

The ratio of height to arm length and brain size, however, can. H. floresiensis has longer arms and a smaller brain relative to its height compared to humans.

Also, just looking at the skull (NB: IANA physical anthropologist), the nose looks all wrong for humans. It’s practically flush with the face. (Granted, there’s lots of variety in nose height among humans, but even the flattest-nosed are nowhere near, say, a chimp or an orangutan.)

In other news, there’s increasing evidence for the existence of the orang pendek, a bipedal ape reputed to live in Indonesia. Personally, I don’t know how you’d distinguish a bipedal ape from a hominid. Could the Orang Pendek and Homo floresiensis be related?

6

PZ Myers 10.27.04 at 10:34 pm

7

belle waring 10.28.04 at 3:54 am

thanks pz, that’s a very interesting post. this is only the coolest thing EVAR! maybe I should go to Flores on my next vacation and start looking around for little dudes. and we’re going to get info about Titan in the next few days, hopefully! wooo hooo science!

8

Jackmormon 10.28.04 at 4:40 am

PZ, thanks for the link to Carl Zimmer’s site. He does a great job of summarizing the stakes of this discovery (and others, as I scroll down). Definitely one for the favorites list!

9

Scott Martens 10.28.04 at 2:53 pm

Frodo lives!

(Couldn’t resist.)

Since there is some evidence that these “hobbits” had mastered some fairly complicated technology while having brains the size of chimpanzees’, this seems to me to decimate the whole “man is smart cuz he evolved a big brain” school of homind biology.

10

chun the unavoidable 10.28.04 at 3:22 pm

Their tongues could not speak but only flatter.

11

Matt McGrattan 10.28.04 at 4:18 pm

The ‘big brain’ = intelligence thing has always been a bit shaky.

There’s clearly a correlation, etc. but there are considerable variations in brain volume among modern humans, for example. There are some individuals with extremely low brain volume – Homo Erectus level brain volume! – that test normally on IQ tests and lead otherwise normal lives.

If modern humans can lead typical modern human lives with a brain volume approximating that of a Homo Erectus there is no reason why archaic hominids with smaller than current average brain volumes could not also have exhibited similar levels of intelligence. That’s not, of course, to say that they actually did possess such intelligence levels.

12

Kevin Carson 10.28.04 at 7:35 pm

barry freed,

I’d skip ROTK. The Fellowship of the Ring adhered fairly closely to Tolkien, the main deviations being reasonable streamlining changes rather than gratuitous tampering with the plot. If you’ve seen Jackson’s second installment, though, you know how righteously he fucked it up. The third installment takes the vandalism up another order of magnitude.

13

asg 10.28.04 at 8:51 pm

Because, naturally, a director’s job is to adhere to the source material as slavishly as possible.

14

PHIL 10.29.04 at 12:40 am

NEANDERTHALS HAD A LARGER BRAIN THAN MODERN DAY HOMO SAPIENS, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THEY WERE MORE INTELLEGENT THAN USE, AND IN FACT THEY WERE NOT.

15

PHIL 10.29.04 at 12:40 am

NEANDERTHALS HAD A LARGER BRAIN THAN MODERN DAY HOMO SAPIENS, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THEY WERE MORE INTELLEGENT THAN USE, AND IN FACT THEY WERE NOT.

16

Matt Brubeck 10.29.04 at 4:35 am

“I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow naturally leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can get it). Now you know enough to go on with.”

What are the chances that Flores Man encountered colonizing Homo sapiens and inspired some of the first “little people” stories and myths?

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