Wednesday, August 6, 2008

'Hobbit' skull found in Indonesia is not human indeed

Since its first description in 2004, Homo floresiensis, or the Hobbit of Flores, has been attributed to a species of its own, a descendant of Homo erectus, Homo ergaster or another early hominid, such as Australopithecus. Non-believers however hold the new species for a pathological form of modern humans, Homo sapiens, or just a dwarf human like the Neolithic inhabitants of the very same island. Karen Baab and colleagues applied landmarks on the skull, and concluded Homo floresiensis is a species on its own, and related to hominins of 1.5 million years ago. We did the same, half a year earlier, and reached similar conclusion but dare to put one step further. We applied geometric morphometric analysis to the type skull of Homo floresiensis (LB1) and compared it with skulls of normal Homo sapiens, insular Homo sapiens (Minatogawa Man and Neolithic skulls from Flores), pathological Homo sapiens (microcephalics), Asian Homo erectus (Sangiran 17), African Homo habilis (KNM ER 1813), and Australopithecus africanus (Sts 5). Our analysis includes specimens that were highlighted by other authors to prove their conclusions. The geometric morphometric analysis separates the 'hobbit' from all modern humans, thus including both the pathological and the insular forms. It is further impossible to separate the 'hobbit' skull from Homo erectus. The very early hominin Australopithecus falls separately from all skulls.

Visual inspection of the skulls learned that the cranial shape of Homo floresiensis is most close to that of Homo erectus and not to that of any modern human. Apart from cranial shape, some features of Homo floresiensis are not unique but are shared with other insular taxa, such as the relatively large teeth (shared with Early Neolithic humans of Sardinia), and changed limb proportions (shared with Minatogawa Man).

We thus conclude that Homo floresiensis is a direct descendant of Asian Homo erectus and has no relation neither to primitive australopithecines nor to modern Neolithic pygmy people of Flores.

By G.A. LYRAS, M.D. DERMITZAKIS, A.A.E. Van der GEER, S.B. Van der GEER, J. De VOS. 2008. The origin of Homo floresiensis and its relation to evolutionary processes under isolation.© 2008 The Anthropological Society of Nippon

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Or go to the publisher


fabristol said...

Dear Alexandra,

I found your research very interesting and your passions very original. I am sardinian and I am doing a Ph.D. in Neuroscience in England. I came here into your blog because I was searching for some informations about pleistocene fauna of my island. And I learned a lot of things that I didn't know, expecialy about the Cynotherium. It's unbelievable that in my island nobody knows about our fossil history!! Is there any skeleton of the Cynotherium in any sardinian museum? I doubt there is a paleonthological museum in sardinia, though. ;)
From what I saw from your official website you know sardinian as well? Am I right? And I did you learned it. It's affascinating.

Good to have met you, I will pass by your blog other times for sure!!

Alexandra van der Geer said...

Bonas dies Fabristol!

Good to hear that a non-paleontologist is interested in the paleo-history of Sardinia! It is a pity that the Sardinians themselves are so little informed about the extinct animals of their own fabulous island. There is a museum, the archeological museum of Nuoro, with fossils, but the museum was closed for years, and I'm not sure if it ever reopened. In Rome (university museum) they have a complete Cynotherum skeleton, and the speleological club of Nuoro has a complete Prolagus. That's it, the maximum you can see. I'm currently writing a book on extinct islanders, including Sardinia, and I'll keep you informed.

And yes, I wrote a Sardinian language course in Dutch and a mini-dictionary NL-Sardu, but after so many years of doing other things, I almost forgot su sardu completely! Next week I go again (Euromam excursion 2008), maybe I can refresh my fading knowledge.


fabristol said...

Ciao Alexandra,

I am very interested in fossils and expecially in sardinian fauna. With a friend we were always dreaming about a natural history museum to run in my city, Cagliari. ;)
Imagine a collection of specimens of all the fossils found in Sardinia and Corsica: Museo di Storia Naturale delle isole del Mediterraneo. Fantastic!
About your book, please let me know when it's out! my e-mail is

Could I ask you how did you learn sardinian? I mean, you lived in the island for a while or just by studying it in books?

A si biri


Alexandra van der Geer said...

Ciao Fabry,

But this museum actually exists, it is the paleontology museum of Cagliari (of which I don't know its precise name). In the Museo di Archeologia e Preistoria di Nuoro there is one room with fossils, and also in Sassari they have some.

I excavated for some twenty years in Sardinia in the summer, and learnt Sardinian from the shepherds, and later from books, but mainly the Nugoro variety.

A mezus bider,