‘Hobbit’ Was Separate Species: Researchers

Scientific evidence released this week supports the theory that a 18,000-year old “Hobbit” skeleton unearthed in Indonesia was a new species closely related to Homo sapiens.

Some scientists had theorized that the skeletal remains found on the island of Flores in 2003 belonged to a pygmy or a microcephalic – a human with an abnormally small skull.

hobbitBut researchers from Florida State University who examined a three-dimensional computer reconstruction of the small but well-formed brain of the hominid, “classified it with normal humans.”

“We have answered the people who contend that the Hobbit is a microcephalic,” said world-renowned paleoneurologist Dean Falk, who is also chairwoman of Florida State University’s anthropology department, which conducted the research with Indonesia’s Center for Archaeology along with other international partners.

Her team’s study of both normal and microcephalic human brains is published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The computer model reproduced the surface of the brain, including its shape, grooves and vessels, revealing what Falk described as a “highly evolved brain.”

The skeleton came to be known as “the Hobbit” after the diminutive characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The brain of the Hobbit – more accurately identified as “Homo Floresiensis” – was compared to those of 10 normal humans and nine people suffering microcephaly, a virus that stunts the development of the brain.

The complete skeleton and skull unearthed in a cave in Flores measures 1.06 meters, igniting a raging controversy among anthropologists, who until then had believed the extinction of the Neanderthal 30,000 years ago left Homo sapiens as the only surviving human species.

Archaeologists had found sophisticated tools and evidence of a fire near the remains of the three-foot-tall adult female with a brain roughly one-third the size of a contemporary human.

“People refused to believe that someone with that small a brain could make the tools. How could it be a sophisticated new species?” Falk said.

“It’s the $64,000 question: Where did it come from?” she said. “Who did it descend from, who are its relatives and what does it say about human evolution?” said Falk. “That’s the real excitement about this discovery.”

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