This is a scientific debate with no obvious political implications but I have taken an interest in it from the beginning because of a related matter that DOES have considerable political implications. And as soon as you see a “debate is over” claim you realize that science is taking second place to something else. The debate is NEVER over in science. The debate was “over” about Newton’s laws of motion for centuries — until Einstein proved them wrong.
The related matter is that in Australia there are common claims from the Left that Australian Aborigines are “owed” various things (mostly land and money) because they were the “original inhabitants” of Australia. But they were not. There was a pygmy race before them that they mostly wiped out. Some of the pygmies concerned survived in a mountain redoubt near where I was born in far Northern Australia, however, and there are photographs of them still. They have since intermarried with Aborigines but there are still some VERY short Aborigines in the area. I have seen them. Note this story of a very elderly 3’7″ tall Aborigine from the area I speak of. The existence of Australian pygmies has however been hushed up in the usual Leftist way in pursuit of their “reparations” claims on behalf of Aborigines.
So when I saw the announcement that fossils of very short people had been discovered on an island near Australia, I immediately said: Aha! More pygmies! That was not a conclusion universally shared, however. There were many claims that the individuals concerned were a different species and not homo sapiens at all. Since then the controversy has raged with arguments for and against them being homo sapiens. The latest claim is below. I add a footnote in reply (A footnote in more ways than one!).
A sensational theory that the 18,000-year-old remains of the hobbit were those of a modern human with a brain deformity who had received prehistoric dental work has been debunked.
According to physical anthropologist William Jungers and his Australian, Indonesian and US colleagues, their new study of the very long foot of the very short hobbit, Homo floresensis, is the final evidence that she and her tiny ilk were a never-before-seen human cousin, combining primitive and modern traits. “The (deformity) debate is officially over,” said Professor Jungers, head of the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University Medical Centre in New York.
No known syndrome nor pathology of modern people could explain the mix of features displayed by the hobbit, which lived on the Indonesian island of Flores from 90,000 to possibly 13,000 years ago, Professor Jungers said. “Wishful thinking, arm-waving and woolly conspiracy theories can’t change inconvenient facts,” said Professor Jungers, lead author on one of two studies reported today in the journal Nature.
Leading critic Maciej Henneberg, a University of Adelaide physical anthropologist, told The Australian he stood by his hypothesis that the individual hobbit studied was a deformed human with dental work. “What we are seeing is a strange mixture of very modern characteristics and some that are like a deformed human … There is no precedent and it doesn’t fit into what we know about the evolution of higher primates,” Professor Henneberg said.
According to Harvard University physical anthropologist Daniel Lieberman, that’s the point of the Jungers group’s findings. “Recently discovered (fossil) footprints from Kenya indicate that a modern foot had evolved by 1.5 million years ago, presumably in (an early human) Homo erectus,” he writes in an independent commentary, also in Nature. “Unless the Flores fossils re-evolved a primitive foot, they must have branched off the human line before this time.”
In the related Nature paper, palaeontologists Eleanor Weston and Adrian Lister — both with London’s Natural History Museum — suggest the 1m tall hobbit’s head — disproportionately small for the rest of her body — could be an evolutionary response to living for thousands of years on a tiny island. Other animals on the island — stegosaurs, for example — shrank in a well-known process called island dwarfism. They found evidence that this had happened to the hobbits by studying — surprisingly — pygmy hippos in Madagascar, which also have exceptionally small brains for their size.
Dr Weston and Professor Lister compared the “hippo model” with ancient humans and hobbits, concluding the hobbit’s brain-body ratio was comparable with Homo erectus, as a result of island dwarfing.
Regardless of whether the hobbit downsized from Homo erectus or evolved from an even more primitive ancestor, Homo habilis, the latest reports add to a growing body of anatomical, archaeological and even medical imaging evidence that the hobbit is a real species from the ancient past. As Dr Lieberman noted, there’s only one way to test each hypothesis: find more fossils, especially in Asia. “Get your shovels,” he said.
It is perfectly reasonable that a large foot should have re-emerged in an isolated human population. We have in our genes the information from a lot of our evolutionary past and it sometimes re-emerges. There have, for instance, been in China some people born with tails. And the entire human species is said to be neotenous — meaning that we have “regressed” to an infantile state in various ways. So the large foot that the “debate is over” man relies on proves nothing. If anything, it is a confirmation of Darwin’s Galapagos Island observations that the same species can change in response to their environment.
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