Feeds

'Hobbit' islanders given species claim boost

Brain strain

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.