Jumat, 24 Oktober 2008

Who Were the Flores People?

Since their discovery in 2004, the origin and identity of a diminutive people who lived on the island of Flores, Indonesia 70,000 to 12,000 years ago have been the hot topic among paleoanthropologists (see the Current Issue in Human Biology 5th ed., pp. 520-521.) The discoverers immediately claimed to have unearthed a new human species, which they named Homo floresiensis. Nay-sayers still dispute the claim, saying that the one skeleton found so far, named LB1, is nothing more than a diseased human with microcephaly.

Well, it seems that the new-species proponents are gaining ground these days. Analysis of LB1’s hands and feet suggest that this is not the skeleton of a modern but diseased human. Her wrist bones and especially her feet are closer to those of Homo erectus, an African Hominid that lived in Africa more than a million years ago. Her feet are so long that scientists think she must have walked with a high-stepping gait and been a poor runner. How Homo floresiensis reached Indonesia and survived there for over 50,000 years is a mystery.

For a good look at the one skeleton unearthed so far, see “When Hobbits (Slowly) Walked the Earth”, Science April 25, 2008, pp. 433-435. You can get the article online at www.sciencemag.org - search for "When Hobbits".

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