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Credit: Ryan Somma

Like many people I’ve been following the tales of the Hobbits of Flores, H. floresiensis, with some interest since 2004. And, like most people I have no personal expertise or skill which is relevant to evaluating whether this putative hominin species actually is a new species (as opposed to a pathological modern human). So how are we to evaluate a new PLOS ONE article which comes down on the side that it is a new species? First, my very vague impression is that over the past ~10 years the new-species camp has been gaining ground on the pathological-modern-human set. But setting all that aside perhaps the critical issue for me is that the likely reality of archaic human admixture into our own lineage means that the world is far stranger than we had thought in 2004. For various anatomical and paleoanthropological reasons H. floresiensiswas implausible. But as implausible as the idea that the genome of a Siberian hominin would yield admixture in modern Papuans?

Addendum: New York Times on the paper in PLOS ONE.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Anthropology, Hobbit, Human Evolution 
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I went and saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yesterday with some friends. It’s been 20 years since I last read The Hobbit, and even longer since I watched the television film from the late 1970s. So I really didn’t notice all the differences between the three hour film and the original novel. Two quick comments:

1) I didn’t pick up on all the big technological changes. I suspect this is something movie reviewers are going to focus on, because they have such a good grasp of the technical element. But for the average person it’s not as obvious. Some of the 3D was well done, but much of it was a little excessive for me.

2) I wasn’t too bored, but a two hour film would have been more than sufficient. Someone behind me literally fell asleep, judging by the persistent snoring.

I’d give the film a B-. This wasn’t in Jar Jar Binks territory.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Hobbit 
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My working assumption is that this will be a regression back to the mean in relation to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I notice is that the projected budget for the two films is already more than a time and a half greater than all three of those earlier releases. Even accounting for inflation I suspect this is just a function of the resources now available to Jackson.

Though I assume it will at least supersede the 1977 Rankin-Bass production of the Hobbit (often parodied on South Park):

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Culture, Hobbit 
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I predicted earlier that Hobbit DNA would be extracted in 2011. It was pretty much an educated guess based on various omissions I sensed in papers in 2010. But it seems that an attempt is going to be made:

Scientists are planning an attempt to extract DNA from the ‘hobbit’ Homo floresiensis, the 1-metre-tall extinct distant relative of modern humans that was unearthed in Indonesia, following a study that suggests problems in standard sampling methods in ancient-DNA research could have thwarted previous efforts.

This year, geneticists at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide hope to recover DNA from a roughly 18,000-year-old H. floresiensis tooth, which was excavated in 2009 from the Liang Bua site on the Indonesian island of Flores.

No guarantees, but still exciting.

(via Dienekes)

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"