Research so far of Homo floresiensis

Thankfully I’ve been able to accomplish my research of Homo floresiensis thus far from the comforts of the public library and I don’t think I have ever been quite so grateful for a serene environment as well as an air conditioned space (in this 110° weather it seems like I can barely make it to the car without breaking into a sweat).

These past few days, I have already arrived at an interesting observation. Despite its groundbreaking implications, I have found that as a result of its relatively recent discovery (the remains of H. floresiensis were uncovered in 2003), there is significantly less information available than other popular hominins such as Homo erectus and Homo habilis. This may also serve as an explanation to why it seems most people have never heard of this “hobbit-like species of hominin” as well as the confused looks I receive when I first try explaining the topic of my project.

However, while the shelves at the public library might not be overflowing with novels written about H. floresiensis, there are still many journals, books, and even DVDs containing very detailed information about this intriguing species. So far, I’ve focused my efforts on tackling mainly scholarly articles in an attempt to gain a better overall understanding as well as to educate myself with the debate surrounding their discovery.

While there is a great amount of data that I have been accumulating these past few days, I have tried to include some of the basics here so that you can begin to form a mental picture of this species. So far archaeologists have uncovered a partial female skeleton (referred to as LB1 in the articles) in addition to approximately twelve individuals dating between 95,000 and 17,000 years ago. They were about a meter tall (or 3.28 feet for those who aren’t as fond of the metric system), weighed somewhere around 30 kg (66.14 lbs), and had a chimpanzee-size brain of 417 cc. For comparison, the average adult female is 1.62 meters (5.32 feet), 74.71 kg (164.7 lbs), and possesses a brain size of 1100-2000 cc. Despite their small cranial capacity relative to modern standards, they were not an unintelligent species. They have been attributed to such accomplishments as using fire, manufacturing spears, and even with hunting dwarfed elephants (Stegodons) and large varnid lizards (Komodo dragons).

Furthermore, Liang Bua cave truly is the only location so far that archaeologists have discovered remains linked to H. floresiensis. This in itself is fascinating because it invites further questions such as are there remains that exist in other locations hiding underneath thousands of years worth of dirt and debris waiting to be uncovered? And if not, why does this cave in particular house all of the fossils? Are there some unknown unique and special characteristics about this cave that made it an ideal habitat for H. floresiensis? While these are questions that can only be answered with further excavations, time, and analysis, I still wonder. My personal hypothesis is that there are other locations on the island where remains exist, it is just challenging for the archaeologists to find them due to the inordinate amount of time that has passed since these “hobbits” walked the earth. I would also posit that the cave itself might serve as a beneficial environment for the preservation of fossils as a direct result of its cool temperatures (slower decomposition) and position away from scavengers.

I have really enjoyed researching H. floresiensis so far. One concept I truly enjoy pondering is the fact that our H. sapiens ancestors that inhabited the earth tens of thousands of years ago shared the land with other species similar to ourselves. Granted, they had some crucial differences (such as brain size as well as physical and mental capabilities), but they possessed enough commonalities with us to be categorized in the same genus. Kind of cool, huh? My next step is to focus in greater detail on the controversy surrounding H. floresiensis’ ancestors and their arrival on the island of Flores.

 

References:

Aiello, L. C. “Five years of Homo floresiensis.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 142.2 (2010): 167–179.  Academic Search Complete. Web.

“Average Height for a Woman Statistics.” About Pediatrics – Pediatric Parenting and Medical Advice. Web. 04 Aug. 2011. <http://pediatrics.about.com/cs/growthcharts2/f/avg_ht_female.htm>.

Coolidge, Frederick Lawrence, and Thomas Wynn. The Rise of Homo Sapiens the Evolution of Modern Thinking. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

“FASTSTATS – Body Measurements.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 4 Aug, 2011. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/bodymeas.htm

Goldenberg, Linda. Little People and a Lost World: an Anthropological Mystery. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2007.

Jungers, William, and Karan Baab. “The Geometry of Hobbits: Homo Floresiensis and Human Evolution.” Significance 6.4 (2009): 159-64. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Lieberman, Daniel E. “Palaeonathropology: Homo Floresiensis from Head to Toe.” Nature 459.7243 (2009): 41-42. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Comments

  1. Although it does seem strange that remains were discovered at only one site, I think most discoveries start out that way (of the first lobed fish, for instance) and the cave might just have been the most apt setting for conservation yet uncovered. So little time has elapsed since the initial discovery, but I would have imagined a flurry of activity and study, and more documentation. It is kind of surprising that you had trouble finding enough reference material!
    Sounds extremely interesting, either way. Good luck on the following steps!

    Emily