Feeds

'Hobbit' islanders given species claim boost

Brain strain

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Another salvo has been fired in the row over whether the remains of the Indonesian "Hobbit" people actually represent a separate species, or just malformed Homo sapiens.

The bones, unearthed from the Liang Bua limestone cave on the island of Flores caused a sensation when they were first revealed to the world in 2004, but have since been the source of much scientific tit-for-tat with research published arguing both cases.

At the time, the team which made the discovery said when combined with their primitive anatomical features, the advanced stone tools associated with the fossil cache suggested they had developed in isolation on Flores. A population of Homo erectus - one of our own ancestors - may have evolved into small island dwellers.

Later work by separate groups of researchers in 2006, however, said the three-footers may have been pygmys suffering from the rare congenital condition microcephaly, which retards the growth of the brain.

Now, a study of the skull of the only complete individual, a female known as LB1, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences yesterday evening, says otherwise. CT scanning mapped the LB1's brain cavity, and was used to create a 3D model of the brain (pictured), which was around the same size as a chimpanzee and around a quarter of our own.

Modern microcephalic, left and LB1, right

Modern microcephalic, left and LB1, right

Dean Falk at the University of Florida and colleagues argue their new data shows the Flores people's brains did not have the characteristic traits of a microcephalic human. They compared the Flores skull to nine modern cases of microcephaly, and normal skulls. They concluded not only did LB1 not have microcephaly, but was dissimilar enough to Homo sapiens to support its "new species" tag.

Professor Falk told the BBC: "People refused to believe that someone with that small of a brain could make the tools...[but] LB1 has a highly evolved brain. It didn't get bigger, it got rewired and reorganised, and that's very interesting."

The contention looks set to continue, however. Answers have been slow in coming; a part of the problem has been a bureaucratic tussle over rights to the bones and to further excavate the Liang Bua cave system.

The Australian reports a team now investigating a new chamber are hunting DNA from the Flores people, who are thought to have survived to as recently as 12,000 years ago. Numerous animal bones "showing evidence of butchery" have already been found at the bottom of the 430m2 chamber "in pristine condition", according to team leader Dr Mike Gagan of the Australian National University.

An expedition to the remote caves this June will look for remains of their hunters. Standard DNA profiling techniques should prove conclusively whether the so-called hobbits were human or a separate species. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.