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In 2003, researchers excavating a limestone cave on the remote Indonesian island of Flores made an extraordinary discovery: the 18,000-year-old bones of a woman whose skull was less than one-third the size of our own.
Comparing the simulation to the original Flores skull discovered in 2003, McNulty and Baab were able to demonstrate conclusively that the original "hobbit" skull fits the expectations for a small fossil hominin species and not a modern human. Their study was published online this month in the Journal of Human Evolution.
While the debate over Homo floresiensis will continue, McNulty believes this comprehensive analysis of the relationship between size and shape in human evolution is a critical step toward eventually understanding the place of the Flores "hobbits" in human evolutionary history.
"I think the majority of researchers favor recognizing this as a new species," McNulty said about the categorization of Homo floresiensis. "The evidence is becoming overwhelming, and this study helps confirm that view."
Two papers look at those "post-cranial" remains of LB1 and kin, in other words every thing but the skull. The hips, legs and feet of nine hobbits are examined in a paper led by William Jungers of Stony Brook University. And the arms, collar bones, wrists and fingers of six hobbits are described in another led by his colleague Susan Larson. Those bones "presents a unique mosaic of derived (human-like) and primitive morphologies, the combination of which is never found in either healthy or pathological modern humans." Larson's group reports. The leg bone finds indicate LB1 was most likely female. Overall, the bones most resemble those of Lucy, Australopithecus afarensis, suggesting they arrived at the island of Flores a very long time ago.