Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Homo hobbitus update Discovery Challenges Finding of a Separate Human Species
More bones of unusually small-bodied people who lived long ago have been found on another Pacific island, and some scientists say this calls into question claims that the first such specimens, from Indonesia, represent a separate human species.

In a report released Monday, Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, described finding the skulls and bones of at least 25 individuals in two caves in Palau, in the Western Caroline Islands of Micronesia. The people apparently lived there 1,400 to 3,000 years ago.

. . .

“Based on the evidence from Palau,” Dr. Berger’s team concluded, “we hypothesize that reduction in the size of the face and chin, large dental size and other features noted here may in some cases be correlates of extreme body size reduction in H. sapiens.”

Yet another twist! I wasn't able to get to the paper, the website at PLoS is reeeeally slow. They seem pretty confident that these are typical, if reduced in size, H. sapiens. Question remains as to what caused the body size reductions. One might immediately think of the usual miniaturization that sometimes goes with island species (e.g., dwarf mammoth). The article doesn't say anything about whether there was some genetic thing going on that would cause portions of a population to be so tiny.