Tiny "Flores Man" of Indonesia declared a new human species

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16 Responses to “Tiny "Flores Man" of Indonesia declared a new human species”

  1. johnphantom says:

    Hahaha danlalan, a bush? That is something I have to remember!

  2. Joe says:

    Of course things can change as more evidence is discovered, but evidently they now have fossils from nine distinct individuals, plus lots of tools sized for miniature humans. Claims that one specimen is diseased look less credible when you have to argue that all of them have the same disease.

  3. Rich Keller says:

    I think a DNA analysis would settle the question once and for all. But, at 18,000 years old, that might not be possible.

    I can see how some might be dubious, though. If the theory of H. floriensis as a different species from H. sapiens is based only on morphology, then we may never be absolutely certain. If scientists in the future found two different 18,000 year old dog skeletons, one a pug and the other an Irish wolfhound, they might see them as different species just on the morphology alone.

    I’d totally dig seeing a full body forensic reconstruction of her.

    • danlalan says:

      If the evidence was based only on a difference between modern humans and H. floresiensis, I would be inclined to agree with you. To borrow your dog analogy, if we were to find two skeletons that not only differed from one another, but where one of them showed more similarity to foxes than to other dogs, it would strongly suggest a much less close relationship than if those differences were not seen someplace else. This is what is going on here. There are specific morphological traits in H. floresiensis that we see in some very ancient homo species that we do not see in the more recent lines more closely related to us. The evidence I’ve seen from a variety of sources is pretty strong that these guys were not us in any sense.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’ll believe in hobbits when one lands on the whitehouse lawn.

  5. MitchSchaft says:

    Of course getting their DNA is possible. We have a full DNA make-up of homo neanderthal.

  6. singingdragon says:

    No, they’ve actually got a full Neanderthal sequence now, and they’re working on a couple more. That sequence was from a 38,000 year old specimen, so 19,000 should be doable. The problem is that it’s a destructive process. We have a LOT less H. floresiensis material to work with than we do with Neanderthals (many orders of magnitude), so researchers are very reluctant to perform destructive tests on what little we have.

  7. Tanukintama says:

    It’d be pretty cool if few of these branching species of humans were still around. But then again, they’d probably be treated worse than garbage because of racism.

  8. Keir says:

    Kudos for the first ever coverage of this I’ve seen without ‘hobbit’ in the headline.

  9. nanuq says:

    I don’t think any scientific debate can ever be said to be settled. All that it takes is the discovery of new fossils to get things going again. Fascinating if true, though.

  10. Osprey101 says:

    Like nanuq says- just because somebody “says so” doesn’t mean the argument is over. The Stony Brook University Medical Center? Really?

    Taxonomy is plastic. Wait a few years and someone will recombobulate it, and the argument will begin anew.

  11. Anonymous says:

    If the Hobbit skeletons yield usable DNA, it will take all of 5 seconds before genomics person compares genome with modern inhabitants of Flores. Should be entertaining. Would also be a great techno-thriller plot line, with violence between multi-regionlists and out-of-Africa camps. Good clean fun.

  12. danlalan says:

    This really is amazing stuff. The wrist bones and other features suggest that the split from the clade that led to modern humans is truly ancient, possibly as far back as a million years. Where they were discovered is more significant than their existence as there is pretty clear evidence that our family tree is more of a bush anyway, but the fact that they were found on an Indonesian island means that our current picture of when populations of our ancestors and their cousins moved out of Africa needs to be revisited. Coupled with the recent suggestion that DNA dating techniques yield significant errors,
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091110135411.htm
    the consensus views about where and when we came to be have been (once again) made much less clear. Fascinating stuff.

  13. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Those ruffians have turned the Gaffer out of his hole.

  14. Marja says:

    It’s important to remember that biologists use multiple definitions of species.

    The most important definitions are closely tied to the biological species concept, and either concern gene flow, whether two populations can interbreed and have fertile offspring, whether two species normally interbreed, and so on.

    That doesn’t help paleobiologists. The biological species concept is useful for theoretical work, but fossil species may represent subspecies, species, or even multiple closely-related species. The evidence above shows that H. floresiensis represents a distinct morphological group. The details suggest very early divergence, perhaps early in genus Homo, which lends strong support to the interpretation that they were a distinct species in all senses.

  15. nanuq says:

    “Of course getting their DNA is possible. We have a full DNA make-up of homo neanderthal.”

    Mitochondrial DNA from neanderthals has been identified but that was largely due to the colder climate in Northern Europe where the fossils were found. It probably won’t be possible to do the same for 18,000 year old fossils found in Indonesia where the climate is much warmer.

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