Reconstruction of an H. floresiensis female (Enlarge image). Smithsonian, Washington, D.C. Image: Tim Evanson|
Liang Bua Cave, where H. floresiensis was discovered (Enlarge image) Image: Rosino
Image: Ryan Somma
The Taung Child|
Skulls of H. floresiensis (left) and Homo sapiens (right) compared. Image: Peter Brown, University of New England|
|Location of Flores|
This recently discovered hominid, known as Flores Man and nicknamed the Hobbit, existed on the Indonesian island of Flores until relatively recent times (at least as recently as 13,000 years ago).
It was first reported in 2004 (Brown et al. 2004; Lahr and Foley 2004; Morwood et al. 2004). The nickname of hobbit comes from the fact that these hominids were quite small in comparison with modern humans — only about a meter (3.28 ft.) tall — and had extremely small brains. However, they did build fires and use stone tools.
The best preserved specimen, which is only 18,000 years old, was an adult, probably a female, known as LB1. The corresponding skull has a cranial capacity of only 417 cc — about the same as that of a chimpanzee — a receding forehead, and no chin. The teeth are similar to those of a modern human, only smaller.
There has been a great deal of controversy over whether Homo floresiensis actually is a distinct form of human, but it does seem as if it will soon be accepted as such. Claims that this form is based on the remains of microcephalic dwarves belonging to Homo sapiens seem implausible given available evidence.
Homo floresiensis remains thus far recovered are between 13,000 and 38,000 years old. Small tools attributed to this hominid have also been found. They are from 13,000 to 95,000 years old and are associated with the remains of dwarf elephants, which occurred on the island at that time, presumed prey of these gentle hobbits. The earliest date of existence for H. floresiensis is based on the earliest known occurrence of such tools (95,000 years ago).
These little people therefore lived concurrently with modern humans (Homo sapiens) for at least 82,000 years, and overlapped with H. neanderthalensis for about 60,000 years. Future research, in particular investigation of other caves on Flores, may reveal that this hominid existed for an even longer time than is already known. The Liang Bua limestone cave on Flores where the discovery was made is shown at right below.
Perhaps we are not from the apes alone?
|Etymology: The Latin word homo means "man" or "human being." The Latin suffix -ensis was added to floresi- (referring to the island of Flores) to produce Homo floresiensis, meaning "man, or human being, from Flores." Flores itself is the Spanish and Portuguese word for "flowers."|
Note that the H. floresiensis cranium shown above at right is rather similar to the far older Taung child cranium (at right), which dates to the end of the Early Pliocene (more than two million years ago). The Taung child is currently considered a juvenile specimen of Australopithecus africanus.
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