Wednesday, March 24, 2010

she's still a mystery girl

Homo floresiensis, so recently discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores, near Timor, has proved another conundrum for everyone intrigued by the tree of human evolution.
A few months ago an issue of the Journal of Human Evolution was devoted to H Floresiensis, and though nothing is ever settled in these matters, it seems that there's growing consensus that 'the little lady of Flores' really does represent a new species. That's to say, the earlier claim of some kind of pathology [microcephaly, usually] seems to have been ruled out.
A summary of a summary of the latest findings and thinking. No evidence of close phylogenetic relations to H sapiens, or, more surprisingly, to H erectus. Big questions remain as to the ancestry of these people [bones have been identified from 12 separate individuals - the 'hobbit' generally referred to is technically called LB1, named for the Liang Bua site]. They seem to have branched off from an earlier version of Homo, betweem 1.5 and 1.9 mya. The brain shape appears similar to those of early Homo skulls, particularly H georgicus, as found at the Dmanisi site [see photo in previous post]. They're a lot stockier than modern humans, and the ratio of arm and leg bones is quite similar to that of the famous 'Lucy' skeleton - that's to say, Australopithecus afarensis, dating back some 3 millions years.
All of this seems to muck up the usual out of Africa stories, which tell of much more recent migrations from the 'mother continent'.
Apparently the Liang Bua site has recently been re-opened, after a number of years. It's certainly an exciting, puzzling time for archaeology.

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