Thursday, September 20, 2007

Of wrists and hobbits

There's a short feature in Nature News that reports the publication of a paper by Matt Tocheri (Smithsonian) and colleagues in tomorrow's issue Science. This is the published version of the paper Tocheri presented at the Paleo meetings this year, in which they presented an analysis of the wrist morphology of LB1 (H. floresiensis), which they show is very different from that of modern humans. If LB1 was microcephalic, this would be somewhat unexpected, so this paper overall lends support to the "hobbit as separate species" camp.

The Nature News feature also includes some comments by Dan Lieberman and Robert Martin about the discovery. Check out also this interview with Tocheri about the paper.

3 comments:

Anne Gilbert said...

This would certainly be *more* support for the idea that the "hobbits" are a distinct species of human. OTOH, is it not possible that some forms of microcephaly or some other condition, might also cause bone abnormalities? I don't know, of course. I'm just wondering.

archaeozoo said...

Razib also discusses this at Gene Expression (http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2007/09/flores_hobbits_real_deal_with.php). I'm no expert, and I certainly wouldn't claim to know enough of the nitty gritty details to be able to determine the difference between natural variation and genuine difference. According to the piece at npr though (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14546763), which also has images of the bones in question, the bones are 'ape-like'. Tocheri is quoted as saying, "If the Hobbit was simply a diseased modern human, or even a human cousin like a Neanderthal, it would have human-like wrist bones. But the wrist bones looked more like those of an ape."

Julien Riel-Salvatore said...

Anne -
yeah, I guess it is more support rather than absolute proof, but that's almost always the case in paleoanthropology. I'm not aware of cases of microcephaly that would have that specific effect on wrist morphology, however, though it would be an important aspect to investigate (as per Martin's comment in the Nature News feature). But, having seen the images, it's hard to imagine -from a functional perspective - why microcephaly would affect wrist morphology thusly.

Archaeozoo - thanks for the links. Thought-provoking stuff, for sure. I think that the fact that the observation that the LB1 wrist morphology is more ape-like is extremely interesting in its own right, outside of phylogeny, for reasons I hope to be able to post about in a little while...