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Razib Khan
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I was thinking a bit about H. floresiensis today. Probably my thoughts were triggered by John Hawks’ post on the propensity for paleontologists to be “splitters,” naming new finds as species when they’re not. The issue with H. floresiensis is a little more cut & dried: if they weren’t a separate species they were obviously pathological. The original paper on the Flores hobbits came out in 2004. Is it too much to ask for a little clarity here six years on? Carl Zimmer has covered this story in depth before, so perhaps he’ll have some insights or inside sources who can shed some light at some point in the near future. John Hawks was sure that the specimens were pathological in the early days, but he hasn’t said much for a bit now. And from what I hear there are new controversies about “Ardi”. I was at a talk years ago where Tim White played up the importance of fossils as the final word, as opposed to the more indirect inferential methods of statistical genetics, but this is getting ridiculous. After the Neandertal admixture paper and the Denisova hominin, genomic inferences are looking pretty good. I assume there’s more coming in the near future (though Svante Pääbo may have kidnapped family members of people working in his lab to gain leverage, so word probably won’t start leaking until a few weeks before the paper breaks). Ötzi the Iceman is going to have his genome published next year.

With all that as preamble, here’s a new paper, Post-Cranial Skeletons of Hypothyroid Cretins Show a Similar Anatomical Mosaic as Homo floresiensis. It’s in PLoS ONE, so read it yourself. Does anyone care? I don’t know enough about about anatomy and osteology to make well-informed judgments about these sorts of things, so to the experts I absolutely defer. But frankly some of the experts strike me jokers. Here’s the problem: I don’t know who the jokers are!

I just went back and reread some of the press when the hobbit finds were revealed. New member of the human family tree! Evolution rewritten! And so forth. If H. floresiensis turns out to be pathological, I don’t know what to think about paleontology. More honestly, I might start slotting the discipline in with social psychology or macroeconomic modeling.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Anthropology, Hobbits, Human Evolution, Paleontology 
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This looks interesting, Aliens from Earth:

An ancient legend on the Indonesian island of Flores tells of an elflike creature similar to the fictional hobbit of novels and film. But a controversial 2003 archeological find not only suggests that there could be some truth behind the legend but promises to rewrite a key chapter in the human evolutionary story. This program investigates the discovery, analysis, and startling implications of the hobbit of Flores.

Airs tonight in the USA.

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Anthropology, Hobbits 
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That’s what this piece in The New York Times seems to be implying. In other words, the various classes of H. erectus might be a sister clade to H. floresiensis, instead of the latter being derived from a branch of the erectine lineages (as Neandertals and our own species are). The reference to “primitive” features and atavism though is likely to confuse the general audience, are the characteristics of the Hobbits really that much less derived than our own in relation to the last common ancestor? And I really wish someone would just do a poll of paleoanthropologists; they’re the only ones with the knowledge base to assess the different hypotheses, but it seems like coalitional politics makes it so that the “consensus” is whatever the last anthropologist that the reporter talked to says it is.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Evolution, Hobbits 
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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"