Sunday, May 22, 2005

Further musings on Hobbits (Homo floresiensis)

Now that their Indonesian captivity is over, the world can look forward to more science being done on the Hobbit bones. In the meantime, here are some results:

" 'Hobbit was a smart little human` say scientists " " The overall shape of the hominid’s brain is very similar to that of Homo erectus (an earlier ancestor of modern humans). It also has some very advanced features that compare well with the modern human’s brain. Particularly, the frontal lobe, the temporal lobes at the sides and at the back of the brain are very similar to a modern human brain’s features. "

When I was at the Australasian Society for Human Biology meeting last December, I made two remarks in a comment from the floor. One was that I thought the Hobbit could be an extreme form of pygmoid Homo sapiens, associated with rainforest palaeoenvironment. I discuss this further in a post below. The other was that bird brains are very small but some birds (crows, parrots) are being found to be remarkably intelligent. I speculated that a small, well-packed human brain could likewise be intelligent. It seems I was on the right track. (I saw a small flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos feeding on pinecones today. Some were eating them in the tree; some were eating them on the ground. The latter had them upright on the ground and were munching away contentedly. Beautiful big birds - quite "confiding" as birdlovers say - and behaving as intelligently as any monkey with a piece of fruit.)

An interesting thing about the Hobbit find is that two developments have been typical of the aftermath of a major new find of ancient man. One is the bitter dispute over ownership of the material. The second is the claim that the bones are really just from a diseased individual (a microcephalic in this case).

I am constantly surprised by the claim that Homo floresiensis must have been a result of "small island dwarfing". Get out the atlas, and check the island of Flores. It is over two hundred miles long. A "small island"?? Moreover, if islands tend to cause human dwarfing, someone should tell that to the Samoans, the biggest people in the world.


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