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Hobbit skull scans add to debate

03 March 2005

New research supports the theory that the three-foot-tall 'human' skeleton found recently in Indonesia is indeed a new species and not a modern human with a deformed brain and skull.

Scientists have created a computer-generated model of the skull of Homo floresiensis and have shown that it was neither a pygmy nor an individual with microcephaly (a condition with an abnormally small skull and brain).

Researchers compared the brain cast with casts from a number of different species. They are:

  • a modern human including the modern pygmy
  • a modern human with true microcephaly
  • Australopithecus africanus
  • Paranthropus aethiopicus
  • Homo erectus
  • a modern chimpanzee
  • a modern gorilla

The comparisons show that the creature that lived on Flores Island ‘is definitely a new species’, says lead author Dean Falk, a palaeoanthropologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Although the Homo floresiensis skull had a similar overall shape to Homo erectus (the earlier ancestor of modern humans), it had many advanced features packed into its small skull that lean more towards modern humans.

Other scientists have criticised the research for not using more than one microcephalic skull, or skulls with other brain conditions in their research.

Chris Stringer, human origins expert at the Natural History Museum adds, ‘I am cautious about drawing too many conclusions concerning brain quality from surface features on the inside of the skull, and I am still cautious about the extent of the "advanced" behaviour inferred for Homo floresiensis from the archaeological evidence.’

‘For me the most significant aspects of the new study are the demonstration that the brain shape is very different from that of a small-bodied, or a microcephalic, Homo sapiens, and that it does, with some differences, most resemble endocasts of Homo erectus.’

‘There is also an interesting comment by the authors in their conclusions, where they speculate that erectus and floresiensis may have derived from a common ancestor distinct from either species.’

The full article is reported in Sciencexpress