March 8, 2010

Hobbit Challenges Evolutionary Theory

For decades, the study of evolution has focused on the continent of Africa, the home of the majority of hominid fossils and the place where Homo erectus originated. However, the 2003 discovery of Homo floresiensis in Indonesia, and recent claims by researchers that it is indeed a new species of human, is challenging what scientists know about the origins of humanity.

"This is a new species that cannot be explained by any known pathology," Dr. William L. Jungers told the Associated Press (AP) recently.

Dr. Jungers, a paleoanthropologist who works at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York and has published a study of the creature's feet, is among a growing number of experts who believe that Homo floresiensis is a unique species that lived between 17,000 and 100,000 years ago, not merely a mutated or deformed human.

Like Dr. Jungers, 59-year-old Australian archaeologist Mike Morwood, who discovered many of the early remains of what has become known as "the hobbit" or the "Flores Man," believes that the discovery opens up the possibility that some key stages of human evolution might have occurred in Asia. "For many people, this was totally unexpected and indicates how little we know about hominid evolution, particularly in Asia," Morwood told AP.

Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London says that he believes an early form of life may have left Africa and evolved into Homo erectus elsewhere, before returning to its continent of origin. "We'd have to say something got out earlier than that and we don't have any record of its evolution in the whole of Asia. That means there is a complete missing chapter of the story of human evolution in Asia if that is correct. That would be very interesting and important if true."

On March 7, AP also released a list of other evidence supporting the claims that Homo floresiensis is, in fact, a unique species. Included among the items on the list are the similarities of the hobbit's teeth to Australopithecus or early Homo species, as well as the similarities of the creature's left wrist to an early hominid and an African ape.


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