Friday, March 04, 2005

Hobbit head

The NY Times and other papers are carrying news of the analysis of the small hominid "hobbit" fossils found in Indonesia last year. The analysis, appearing in this week's Science, carries the of the braincase casts from one of these fossils. The little people had very small total brain volume, about the size of a grapefruit. But the details of the shape of the brain indicate quite a bit of specialization, including very highly convoluted frontal lobes. The authors interpret these signs as being consistent with a highly intelligent species.
These observations, if they could be confirmed, would upend a longstanding idea of how Homo sapiens got to be top dog. In general, the enormouse expansion of brain volume was thought to have come "first." Instead it could be that complex wiring came first.

One must always keep in mind, though, that the hobbits were following their own evolutionary path, and their brain geometry will reflect their evolutionary niche with possible differences from the niche(s) occupied by Homo sapiens. Still, this is a really fascinating discovery.

UPDATE: A nice writeup by Joseph Verrengia at Salon.
UPDATE 2: Follow the trackback over to Sound and Fury for a more skeptical take on what, exactly, the H. Floresiensis fossils represent. And Nature News gives an update about the nearly-resolved squabble over the original fossils.

UPDATE #3: Carl Zimmer at The Loom has more on these data. He thinks it's a brand new species, and telling something about the sequence of hominid evolution. Check out the comments as well.

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