Picked this one up on Carl Zimmer’s The Loom . Since the original reports on the Homo floresiensis remains were published in the fall of 2004 (Brown et al. 2004, Morwood et al. 2004, Falk et al. 2005), there’s been a ton of debate as to exactly what they are. On the one hand, the original team claims that these fossils represent a separate species, on the other, several researchers have since claimed on various grounds that at least the published cranium represents a pathological (specifically microcephalic) individual (e.g., Martin et al. 2006; but cf. Falk et al. 2006). So far, the debate has raged on, with no easy resolution in sight.
Now, a third position on those mysterious hominins has been presented by Gary D. Richards, a grad student at Berkeley's Human Evolution Research Center in a review paper "in press" in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology. Richards’ take is that the Liang Bua remains simply represent a population of healthy, normal humans that fall at the very edge (maybe even beyond the edge) of the ‘small’ range of variation of Homo sapiens. The Loom presents a good discussion of some of the merits and failings of the paper. I haven’t seen any more discussion about this paper on discussion forums or other blogs yet.
The archaeological dimension of this debate also bears discussing as it highlights a number of issues in contemporary Paleolithic archaeology, but I’ll do so in a later post. In the meantime, keep posted to see what kind of treatment this new take on the hobbits will get in the ongoing debate over the ‘hobbits!’
P. Brown, T. Sutikna, M. J. Morwood, R. P. Soejono, Jatmiko, E. Wayhu Saptomo, and R. Awe Due. 2004. A new small-bodied hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia. Nature 431:1055-1061.
Falk, D., Hildebolt, C., Smith, K., Morwood, M.J., Sutikna, T., Brown, P., Jatmiko, Saptomo, E.W., Brunsden, B. & Prior, F. 2005a. The brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis. Science 308:242–245.
Falk, D., Hildebolt, C., Smith, K., Morwood, M.J., Sutikna, T., Jatmiko, Saptomo, E.W., Brunsden, B. & Prior, F. 2006. Response to Comment on 'The brain of Homo floresiensis'. Science 312:999c.
Martin, R.D., MacLarnon, A.M., Phillips, J.L., Dussubieux, L, Willians, P.R. & Dobyns, W.B. 2006. Comment on 'The brain of Homo floresiensis'. Science 312:999b.
Morwood, M. J., R. P. Soejono, R. G. Roberts, T. Sutikna, C. S. M. Turney, K. E. Westaway, W. J. Rink, J.- x. Zhao, G. D. van den Bergh, R. Awe Due, D. R. Hobbs, M. W. Moore, M. I. Bird, and L. K. Fifield. 2004. Archaeology and age of a new hominin from Flores in eastern Indonesia. Nature 431:1087-1091.
Richards, G. D. 2006. Genetic, physiologic and ecogeographic factors contributing to variation in Homo sapiens: Homo floresiensis reconsidered. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 19: in press.