April 30, 2009

Tiny species a mystery to scientists

A U.S. anthropologist says the ancestry of early hominids nicknamed hobbits remains a mystery despite years of research.

William L. Jungers of Stony Brook University said researchers are debating the origin of the tiny people who once lived on the Indonesian island of Flores, The New York Times reported this week.

The discovery of hobbit fossils six years ago resulted in numerous theories about the origin of the hobbits and little consensus. Jungers said the little people could be primitive survivors of earlier hominid migrations from Africa. Some of the migrants could have evolved into new species in Asia or the hobbits could be an unprecedented example of reverse evolution, Jungers said.

Jungers said the hobbits, who weren't much more than 3 feet tall, appear to have lived on the island as recently as 17,000 years ago. He described the hobbits as the black swan of paleontology -- totally unpredicted and inexplicable.

Skeptics say the remains may not actually belong to a new species, Homo floresiensis, and instead be the remains of pygmies or human dwarfs, the newspaper said.