Latest News on Homo floresienesis

Homo floresiensis – A million years old?

Homo floresiensis, nicknamed the ‘hobbits’ of human evolution, have been found only on the island of Flores, Indonesia, dating to 95,000 – 17,000 years ago. Are these fossil archaic humans the source of the Ebu Gogo legend on Flores Island and who was its ancestor? When and how did they get to Flores?

Everything we thought we kenw is with the discovery of stone tools on Flores that suggest premodern humans were there a million years ago, at least 120,000 years earlier than previously thought. A research team said they found 45 stone tools in Wolo Sege in the Soa basin in Flores. Led by Adam Brumm at the Center of Archaeological Science in the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, the researchers used new dating methods and found that the stone tools were about a million years old. “It is now clear, however, in light of the evidence from Wolo Sege, that hominins were present on Flores (a million years ago). This suggests that the non-selective, mass death of Stegondon sondaari and giant tortoise … could represent a localized or regional extinction,” they wrote in their paper. Early on researchers speculated that “Flores man” was thought to be a descendant of homo erectus, who had a large brain, was full-sized and spread out from Africa to Asia about two million years ago. Previous stone tool discoveries showed that a yet unknown early human had arrived on Flores by 880,000 years ago, suggesting that this species might have exterminated some of the Flores’s indigenous animals, including the pygmy elephant-like Stegodon and giant tortoises, which both disappeared at around the same time. The new tool finds imply that some human ancestor, perhaps the Ebu gogo’s ancestors coexisted with these animals for much longer and their excessive hunting caused the disappearance of these indigenous species. “Whatever species made it to the island 1 million years ago, it was probably an ancestor of Homo floresiensis”, says William Jungers, an anthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York. And one has to ask are they the progenitor of the Ebu gogo legend?

More importantly and more provocatively can the Ebu Gogo or Homo floresiensis stil be alive in a remote corner of Indonesia? Stay tuned for more or go to the flores girl blog for new insights!

Bone test confirm that the hobbits or Homo floresiensis are old, I mean really old!
Wednesday, 05 August 2009 Australian National University

Interesting article suggests that the hobbits were from a older human ancestor, in fact much older than originally thought and definitely not diseased humans:

A newly applied technique for analyzing the ‘hobbit’ bones or Homo floresiensis found on the Indonesian island of Flores strongly supports the theory that the remains come from a new species, potentially overturning longstanding ideas about human evolution and dispersal. 

Anthropologist Debbie Argue from Australian National University has led a new research project comparing characteristics of Homo floresiensis bones to those of other early hominin species to build up a picture of where the hobbit sits in the evolutionary tree.

The team used ‘cladistic’ analysis – the first time this has been used in relation to Homo floresiensis. It is an approach that compares the forms of organisms to determine ancestral relationships. The results – published in the Journal of Human Evolution – suggest that Homo floresiensis diverged from the Homo sapiens evolutionary line in the Early Pleistocene, or even the Pliocene, nearly 2 million years ago, meaning that Homo floresiensis did not share an immediate ancestor with modern humans.

“Until now much of the debate about Homo floresiensis has rested on analysis of the morphology and measurements of the remains found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004,” Ms Argue said. “Despite evidence supporting the idea that Homo floresiensis constitutes a new species, some researchers continue to argue that it is the remains of a sick modern human or a near-human ancestor affected by island miniaturization.”

To try to settle the debate, Ms Argue and her colleagues compared up to 60 characteristics from a range of early hominins, including Homo erectus, and modern humans. They used two different computer-based modeling systems, testing relationships between the species to find the most parsimonious, or simplest, evolutionary line.

“Our cladistic analyses created two very similar evolutionary trees that establish a very early origin for Homo floresiensis back around the emergence of the very first members of the Homo family. This suggests that Homo floresiensis was not a sick modern human, not even a very close relative. Ms Argue said the findings support the idea that Homo floresiensis constitutes a new hominin species – but it doesn’t stop there. The fact that the Homo floresiensis population on Flores is a very early species suggests that hominins emerged from Africa much earlier than previously thought.

To read more of this article please go here:

Humans, Flores ‘hobbits’ existed together

Posted August 2, 2009 12:01:00
Updated August 2, 2009 12:17:00

By David Mark for AM

This is more of the same news and confirms the old homo sapiens as killer theory perhaps the cause for Homo floresiensis going extinct:

They were just one meter tall with very long arms, no chins, wrist bones like gorillas and extremely long feet. In 2003, archaeologists excavating in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores made a discovery that forced scientists to completely rethink conventional theories of human evolution.

They reported the discovery of a new species of human, Homo floresiensis, one that lived as recently as 12,000 years ago, at the same time as modern humans. But others disagreed, arguing the one-meter-high skeleton was a modern human that suffered from a deformity known as microcephaly.

The debate about Homo floresiensis has raged ever since. But Debbie Argue, a PhD student from the ANU’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, believes she has settled the question by comparing bone fragments from Homo floresiensis, aka the hobbits, to other hominids.

“We compared them to almost every species in our genus, as well as Australopithecine, which was a genus before Homo evolved,” Ms Argue said.”Of course, we included Homo sapiens.

“We discovered that Homo floresiensis ranged off the family tree almost at the beginning of the evolution of our genus, Homo.
“So that would have been over two million years ago, and as such a very, very primitive being.”

Ms Argue’s work was published recently in the Journal of Human Evolution. She describes the work as a paradigm shift in archaeology, overturning the notion that Homo sapiens were the only hominids on the planet after the extinction of Homo erectus and the Neanderthals. Homo floresiensis changed everything!

“This is science, so maybe [it’s] not the definitive proof but a very, very solid hypothesis,” she said. “This is the first time such a huge and comprehensive set of characteristics about the whole of the body of Homo floresiensis has been but into one analysis.”

Ms Argue says her work challenges another major cornerstone in the theory of human evolution.”This means that something very, very primitive came out of Africa,” she said.”Previous to this we thought that what came out of Africa had modern body proportions and an expanded brain case, but this is a much more primitive being.”We know that Homo floresiensis was, in Flores at least, from 100,000 years ago to about 12,000 years ago. And at that time, or at least from 40,000 years ago, we had modern humans in Asia and New Guinea and Australia.”So here we were sharing the planet where we thought we’d been the only people that survived after the end of the Neanderthals.”

To read more of this article please go here:

Homo floresiensis, aka the Hobbits, ‘evolved separate to humans’,21598,25862805-5005521,00.html
July 31, 2009 03:51pm

AUSTRALIAN research has thrown a question mark over long-held beliefs of human evolution thanks to never-before-tried technology on a set of Homo floresiensis or”hobbit bones” found in Indonesia. Researchers based in Canberra and Wollongong set to work on a “hobbit” skeleton found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004, using new cladistic analysis. It compares the forms of organisms to determine ancestral relationships – the first time it was used on this set of homo floresiensis bones.

The results were surprising. Anthropologist Debbie Argue concluded the bones diverged from the Homo sapiens evolutionary line nearly two million years ago, meaning that it did not share an immediate ancestor with modern humans.
The homo floresiensis bones have previously been dismissed as the remains of a sick human or near-human impacted by environmental factors. ”(The results) suggests that Homo floresiensis was not a sick modern human, not even a very close relative,” Dr Argue said. It would then also dispute the theory that Homo sapiens were the only hominin around after the Neanderthals, she said.

The research has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Feet may hold clue to Homo floresiensis or hobbit’s ancestors

7 May 2009 | Bernie Goldie

Two paper shed light on the Homo floresiensis and one article is from my old alma mater SUNY at Stony Brook and some of the professors I studied with:

Two papers in Nature magazine this week will substantiate the view that Homo floresiensis (nicknamed the ‘Hobbit’) that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until at least 17,000 years ago, was a distinct species — though even stranger than anyone had realized.

Researchers from the University of Wollongong co-led in the discovery of the ‘hobbit’ or Homo Floresiensis five years ago and Professor Mike Morwood (Earth and Environmental Sciences) is the co-author of one of the papers appearing in this week’s Nature entitled ‘The foot of Homo floresiensis’.

Since 2004, debate has raged as to whether the diminutive and tiny-brained species of human, Homo floresiensis, represents a distinct species or some instance of modern humanity stricken with a form of microcephaly — a name for a collection of syndromes in which the patient has an unusually small head.

One argument for microcephaly in Homo floresiensis is that her head was disproportionately small, even for a creature that might have undergone the dwarfing seen in creatures on islands. In the first Nature paper, Eleanor Weston and Adrian Lister have looked at this problem by analogy, through studying fossil hippopotami dwarfed after isolation on the island of Madagascar, cut off from their African ancestors.

Strikingly, Weston and Lister show that the brains of the dwarf hippos shrunk disproportionately, suggesting that the brain of Homo floresiensis might have been small simply as a result of island dwarfing rather than any kind of pathology.

In a related paper, Professor Morwood and colleagues turn from the Homo floresiensis head to its feet.

The researchers (including the lead author Professor William Jungers of Stony Brook University in the United States) show that although the feet had fully adducted big toes, just as in modern humans that walk fully upright, they were much longer relative to the rest of the lower limb than in modern humans. Homo floresiensis feet instead resembles the proportions seen in some apes.

Their findings raise the possibility that the ancestor of Homo floresiensis was not Homo erectus, as many had thought, but was another more primitive and remote hominin.

“The hobbits still remain mystifying anomalies. They are the wrong species in the wrong place at the wrong time according to conventional models for early hominin dispersal,” Professor Morwood said.

Island life – a probable reason for Homo floresiensis’s small brain
Science Centric May 2009

The hobbit, Homo floresiensis, may have had a tiny brain because it lived on an island, according to a new study published in the recent (7 May 2009) issue of the scientific journal Nature. Scientists at London’s Natural History Museum examining the skulls of extinct dwarf Madagascan hippos have discovered they evolved significantly smaller brains in relation to their body size compared with their counterparts on the mainland, an issue at the heart of the debate of the hobbit’s origins.
Natural History Museum palaeontologist Dr Eleanor Weston, who led the research, explained, ‘The recent discovery of a small fossil human, Homo floresiensis, discovered on the island of Flores (in Indonesia) with normal facial proportions but a brain the size of chimpanzee’s has baffled scientists. It could be that Homo floresiensis’ skull is that of a Homo erectus that has become dwarfed from living on an island, rather than being an abnormal individual or separately-evolved species, as has been suggested. Looking at pygmy hippos in Madagascar, which possess exceptionally small brains for their size, suggests that the same could be true for Homo floresiensis, and the result of being isolated on the island.’

Madagascar is a large island with diverse habitats. In the past, it has supported up to three species of hippo. Scientists are unsure when the hippos arrived, but their remains persist to within the last 6,000 years. Brain-body scaling trends in mammals such as the Madagascan hippos and their mainland ancestor, the large common hippopotamus, can be calculated from the relationship of brain to skull size. Although the phenomenon of dwarfism on islands is well recognized in large mammals, an accompanying reduction in brain size, as Weston and fellow Museum palaeontologist Professor Adrian Lister found, has never been clearly demonstrated before.

Dr Weston continued, ‘It may be advantageous to the survival of animals that become isolated on islands to become dwarfs. Also, the brain is a costly organ, because it uses a lot of energy. We found that the brain sizes of extinct dwarf hippos were up to 30 per cent smaller than you would expect by scaling down their mainland African ancestor. If the hippo model is applied to a typical Homo erectus ancestor, the resulting brain capacity is comparable to that of Homo floresiensis.’ ‘Whatever the explanation for the tiny brain of Homo floresiensis relative to its body size, it’s likely the fact it lived on an island played a significant part in its evolution,’ Dr Weston concluded.

Homo floresiensis has an estimated mass of 35 kilos and an estimated height of one meter. The Homo floresiensis brain matches the smallest yet known for any hominid, at roughly 400 mL. It is only 20,000 years old. It is interesting to mention that some animals experience island dwarfism, such as the Holocene mammoths of Wrangel Island off Siberia or the Channel Islands off California. Many kinds of animals experience island gigantism, such as the Komodo dragon on Flores or the dodo on Mauritius, which was a giant relative of the pigeon. The strongest previously documented case of a small brain resulting from living on an island is that of fossil bovid Myotragus, which was isolated on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca for more than five million years. The brain mass of Myotragus was reduced by up to 50 per cent relative to values of living bovids of equivalent body mass.

The Homo Floresiensis study was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

To read more of this Homo Floresiensis article please go here:
Latest Word: Prehistoric Hobbits were not Victims of a growth Disorder – April 28th, 2008

Scientists at Florida State University in Tallahassee say that remains of Homo floresiensis, also known as hobbits, do not show any sign of growth disorders, refuting earlier claims that hobbits were pygmy Homo sapiens that suffered from a growth disorder.

Lead researcher Dean Falk and her Florida State colleague Angela Schauber came to this conclusion after studying computer-generated reconstructions of the fossilized skulls of the small Homo floresiensis islanders. They suspect that Homo floresiensis especially as represented by a partial skeleton called LB1adapted to a challenging island environment by evolving into a smaller but proportionally equivalent version of an ancestral species, possibly Homo erectus.

LB1 didn’t have any of the growth pathologies that have been attributed to it, Falk said.

A study unveiled last year suggested that LB1 exhibits 33 skeletal symptoms of Laron Syndrome, a type of insensitivity to growth hormones. Besides a reduction of face and limb size, this condition includes a round protrusion of the forehead and a depressed ridge on top of the nose. Falk, however, says that measurements, photos, and 3-D computer tomography reconstructions of LB1 do not show any similarity to published data on the anatomy of Laron Syndrome.

She says that LB1 displays unique skull and tooth traits. She says that it also possesses whopping long feet relative to body size, in contrast to the typically small feet observed in Laron Syndrome. Apart from this, preliminary findings also show that LB1 aka Homo floresiensis did not suffer from one form of microcephaly, a genetic growth disorder, or from cretinism, a nutritionally influenced growth disorder.

Schauber used museum skeletal collections to establish that certain species of foxes and mice have evolved into proportional miniatures of larger counterparts. The same process could apply to Homo floresiensis, she says. She says that island gray foxes, found on islands off the California coast, show the same brain size relative to body size as larger mainland foxes do. The research also showed that dwarf little mice matched the relative brain size of much larger, normal-sized mice, she adds.

Schauber says that Homo floresiensis or LB1 shows no signs of having had a relative brain size distorted by any growth disorder, and could well have been a proportional dwarf, as observed in foxes and mice. Robert Eckhardt of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, however, still regards LB1 as a pygmy Homo sapiens that suffered from a still-undetermined growth disorder.

About 400 dwarfing syndromes exist in people today, leaving an extensive list for Falk and her fellow hobbit advocates to consider for LB1, Eckhardt said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, where Falk and Schauber presented separate papers. Primitive-looking features of LB1s wrist and arms actually fall within the range of variation for people today, Eckhardt argued. Homo floresiensis is an imaginative composite, he concluded. (ANI)

From Afarensis, Anthropology, Evolution and Science

Homo floresiensis: Walk Like a Clown?
Tolkien’s hobbits walked an awful long way, but the real “hobbit”, Homo floresiensis, would not have got far. Its flat, clown-like feet probably limited its speed to what we would consider a stroll, and kept its travels short, says Bill Jungers, an anthropologist at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. “It’s never going to win the 100-yard dash, and it’s never going to win the marathon,” he says. He presented his conclusion at last week’s meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Columbus, Ohio.

By analyzing the nearly complete left foot of an 18,000-year-old hobbit skeleton dubbed LB1, found on the Indonesian island of Flores , Jungers’ team estimated the length of the hobbit’s feet, which were unusually large for its meter-high frame. “Sort of like a young girl wearing her mum’s shoes,” Junger says.

And because of their long feet, Homo floresiensis probably had to bend its knee further back than modern humans do, resulting in a sort of high-stepped gait. “You would watch these hobbits walk and say they’re walking a little funny,” Jungers says. The foot had other peculiar features as well. For one, its big toe was quite short compared with the others, similar to earlier hominids such as Australopithecus. However, the shape of the toes, even the short big toe, is like modern human ones, Jungers says. “It has a human morphology and an ape-like proportion,” he says. Jungers and other researchers who claim the hobbit was a distinct species from Homo sapiens point to the foot as further evidence supporting their theory. It has been suggested that the hobbit suffered from a severe block to growth known as cretinism or a disease called microcephaly that leads to miniaturized heads. “It puts another nail in the coffin of the disease hypothesis,” says Henry McHenry, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis who saw the presentation. But the feet don’t solve the bigger mystery of where Homo floresiensis originated, McHenry says. “It’s so strange,” he muses.

Hopeful, they had a podiatrist in their health plan as well!

From New Scientist, # 12:30 16 April 2008 # news service # Ewen Callaway

Were the Hobbits Cretins?

As reported by ScienceNow, a new study conducted by Peter Obendorf and Benjamin Kefford of the RMIT University of Melbourne and Charles Oxnard of the University of Western Australia at Crawley concluded that the small stature of the Homo floresiensis was not the result of genetic defects. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that the hobbits’ size was caused by a condition known as cretinism. This is due to a lack of iodine. Comparing the pituitary flossa in a hobbit skull with individuals suffering from cretinism, they found a significant match and thus suggested a new theory. The remains of twelve hobbits were originally found in a cave in Liang Bua. Obendorf stated that it is an area where people still suffer from goiters that results from iodine deficiency. The new study even mentions that local myths include stories of tiny people who lived in caves. While it may be too early to discard the microcephaly hypothesis altogether, the case for hobbits being real humans is much stronger than before. We should probably do well to forget the image of an ape-like man carrying a furry animal on his shoulder and start describing hobbits as real people. It seems that the distinction between hobbits and humans is found only in Tolkien’s Midde-Earth but not on this earth.

Sarah would not be amused with these cretins claiming that Homo floresiensis was iodine deficient!

Ancient Bones of Small Humans Discovered in Palau

Thousands of human bones belonging to numerous individuals have been discovered in the Pacific island nation of Palau. Some of the bones are ancient and indicate inhabitants of particularly small size, scientists announced today. The remains are between 900 and 2,900 years old and align with Homo sapiens, according to a paper on the discovery. However, the older bones are tiny and exhibit several traits considered primitive, or archaic, for the human lineage. “They weren’t very typical, very small in fact,” said Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Berger was on vacation in 2006, kayaking around rocky islands about 370 miles (600 kilometers) east of the Philippines, when he found the bones in a pair of caves. The caves were littered with bones that had been dislodged by waves and piled like driftwood. Others had remained buried deep in the sandy floor, and more, including several skulls, were cemented to the cave walls. Berger returned later that year with colleagues to excavate some of the remains with funding from the National Geographic Society. (National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.) A paper to appear tomorrow in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE describes the findings and what they suggest about small-bodied humans. Interpreting the Bones Two sets of human bones were found in the Palauan caves. The most recent remains were found near the entrance to one of the caves and appear normal in size. Older bones found deeper in the caves are stranger and much smaller. The smaller, older bones represent people who were 3 to 4 feet (94 to 120 centimeters) tall and weighed between 70 and 90 pounds (32 and 41 kilograms), according to the paper.

The diminutive people were similar in size to the so-called hobbit or Homo floresiensis discovered in National Geographic Society-supported excavations on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. Scientists classified the hobbit as a separate human species, Homo floresiensis. According to Berger, the estimated brain size of the early Palauans is about twice the size of the hobbit brain. Several other features, including the shape of the face and hips, suggest that the Palauan bones should be classified as Homo sapiens. If the interpretation of the Palauan remains is correct, the find may add more fuel to the debate over whether the Flores hobbit is a unique species, Berger said. Aside from being tiny, the Palauan bones show that some of these people lacked chins and had deep jaws, large teeth, and small eye sockets, according to the paper. Some of these features were considered important in originally distinguishing the hobbit as a unique—and archaic—species, Berger said. But the Palauan remains suggest these features may just be a consequence of insular dwarfism, a shrinking process that some scientists attribute to the stresses of a small island environment.

Palau lacks indigenous terrestrial mammals and large reptiles that early Palauans might have used for food. Archaeological records indicate fishing was not a local activity until about 1,700 years ago, around the time bigger bones appear in the caves. The early Palauans’ limited diet, combined with a tropical climate, absence of predators, a small founding population, and genetic isolation, may have produced “these very odd features and very small body size,” Berger said.

The Controversy

William Jungers, an anthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York and a former National Geographic grantee, stands by his conclusion that the hobbit is a unique species. He notes that the small bones, large teeth, lack of a chin, and other features that characterize the early Palauans as well as the hobbits can be found in other small-bodied human populations around the world. But “the smallest-bodied people on Earth do not converge on the proportions and various aspects of morphology of the hobbits,” Jungers said. Jungers points out that the hobbit is distinguished from modern humans by jaw structures called transverse tori, which are seen in human ancestors, such as australopithecines and some Homo erectus fossils, he noted. Chris Stringer, lead researcher in the human-origins program at London’s Natural History Museum, points to other defining characteristics in the hobbits’ feet, teeth, and shoulder and wrist bones. Based on this evidence, he says, “I still believe that the Flores material is something distinct and primitive.”

Berger says his team has yet to analyze the shoulder, feet, and wrist bones in their Palauan sample and thus cannot comment on how they compare to the hobbit bones. A Disease Factor? Unlike the Palauan bones, the hobbit or Homo floresiensis fossils include a skull with an exceptionally small braincase. Its volume is much smaller than that of small-bodied peoples living today on other Pacific islands and in the forests of Africa. It is also smaller than that of the early Palauans. Some scientists argue that the unusually small brain volume of Homo floresiensis makes it not a unique species but rather a small-bodied Homo sapiens with microcephaly, a genetic disease that causes small brains and other abnormalities. A team of researchers from Australia recently reported that the unusual limbs of Homo floresiensis may also have been influenced by disease. The distortions, they claim, are sometimes seen in the offspring of a normal, small-bodied human female with goiter. Berger says his team’s findings might support these disease arguments. But they have yet to find an individual in their sample who had one of these diseases and therefore can’t make a comparison.

The Debate Continues Dean Falk is an anthropologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee who received National Geographic funding to compare the Flores skull with both microcephalics and modern humans without disease. She and colleagues from the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology concluded in a study published last year that the hobbit was not microcephalic. Falk said the finding closed the microcephaly argument. The Palauan remains, she added, are just a set of small bones, representing small-bodied people. “”But being small does not make one comparable to Homo floresiensis,” she noted. “It makes one small—period.”

Steven Churchill, a paleontologist at Duke University and co-author of the new study, says the Palauan discovery expands the known range of variation in modern humans in Southeast Asia, adding context in which to interpret the hobbit fossils. Several scientists, he adds, continue to believe “there’s something wrong with Flores.” One of these scientists is Robert Martin, the curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. He says it’s well known that small-bodied human populations exist in Southeast Asia. A community of pygmies now lives near the Flores hobbit site in the village of Rampapasa, so finding small-bodied Homo sapiens on Palau, he says, “is no surprise.” From Martin’s perspective, the problem with the classification of the hobbit as a separate species is that it is based largely on the brain size of “one microcephalic individual in Flores. … Body size is really a separate issue.” According to Berger, the new findings suggest that “you don’t have to look very far to find the facial and dental characters thought to be unique in Flores.” If traits such as those found among the early Palauans are common on islands, he said, then scientists who want to name a new species in the human lineage will have to present “a much better case built on a lot more fossils before the world will buy it.” ———–

Strange Doings on Flores Island

There continue to be some very strange doings on Flores Island and you have to wonder what is more curious: the finding of three-foot tall human remains just 13,000 years old or the way scientists are reacting very badly to the find?

From the very beginning an Indonesian scientist, Teuku Jacob, has been thwarting the efforts of the western researchers on the island. He at first challenged their findings insisting that the remains were that of a diseased human suffering from microcephaly and then he attempted to keep the fossils to himself. His comment that evolution cannot ‘go backward’ as with the development of a smaller hobbit brain seems bizarre since evolution is only concerned about the survivability of a species and doesn’t concern itself with the human misconception that complex forms of life are inherently more advanced. He was forced to return the find but then there were claims that the remains were damaged upon their return to the original research team. Failing that, he has used his influence with the Indonesian government to stop the further expeditions in the region. Now all research on Flores is at a standstill and he continued his claims that the remains were those of modern day pygmy people.

Why? Is Teuku Jacob a religious zealot with a hidden agenda? Or is this a simple case of professional jealousy and he wants the future hobbit finds for himself? Could it be a simple issue of Western arrogance by the Australian researchers, as Jacob claims, to deny the native scientist access to a major find in his own country?

Or, just maybe, Jacobs wants to be the first researcher to find the surviving Homo floresiensis or Ebu Gogo tribes in Indonesia? Well, he didn’t get his opportunity because he died of a liver disease on October 17, 2007.

“We remember him as a true nationalist as shown by his opinion regarding the discovery of the Liang Bua skeleton in Flores,” Suryo Guritno, chairman of the university’s Assembly of Lecturers (MGB), said in his remarks at the ceremony.

I think those comments explain Jacob’s fierce resistance to the find.

Erik John Bertel

Flores Hominid Bones Returned

Handover is unlikely to resolve scientific and ethical issues over Homo floresiensis

By Tabitha M. Powledge

After a contentious sojourn in the lab of a senior Indonesian paleoanthropologist, most of the ancient hominid bones from the Indonesian island of Flores, published to acclaim in Nature last fall, are back in a new secure storage facility at their home institution, the Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta. Two leg bones from LB1, the 17,000-year-old type specimen nicknamed “The Hobbit” or Homo floresiensis because it is so tiny, were left behind for additional study.

The controversy erupted after Teuku Jacob, professor emeritus of paleoanthropology at Gajah Mada University in Java, took the bones to his own lab. Jacob, who was not involved in the find, has said that this was standard practice and that scientists around the world have done research in the paleontology collections at Gajah Mada, which are particularly rich in Homo erectus fossils. Jacob could not be reached for comment.

“We’ve put a limit of March 3” for the return of the leg bones, Douglas Hobbs, a member of the joint Indonesian–Australian team that found and analyzed the bones, told The Scientist. “The femur is unique, so they wanted to study it further, just to take more measurements, and we said that was fine,” said Hobbs, who was present at the handover. “What was critical to us were the arm bones and an extra jaw that we had found in 2004.”

The 2004 discoveries, which came from the same strata as LB1, have not yet been analyzed completely or published. Hobbs said that the lower jaw contains a complete set of teeth, and the arm bones are much longer than those of Homo sapiens.

The return of the bones on Wednesday (February 23) was managed with cordiality and dignity, Hobbs says. But the handover seems unlikely to halt international rancor over scientific and ethical issues surrounding the Flores find.

“There are asymmetries of the skull and deformities of long bones that were not described as such by authors of the original papers,” Maciej Henneberg, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who has studied the bones in Jacob’s lab and classifies them as microcephalic Homo sapiens, told The Scientist in an E-mail.

“Ask him for his peer-reviewed publication, rather than his personal scratchings on the nearest wall,” responded Peter Brown, of the University of New England in Australia, the bone specialist on the discovery team. Brown told The Scientist in an E-mail that last fall’s papers describe LB1’s legs as having some features different from modern humans, features also found in other leg bones from the site.

Jean-Jacques Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, said he received nasty E-mails and was called unethical because he carried a 1-gram chip of LB1’s rib from Jacob’s lab home for analysis by his colleague Svante Pääbo. Hublin said the Jakarta Centre for Archaeology granted formal authorization to perform the analysis and points out that ancient DNA is now routinely analyzed in at least two labs before publication anyway.

Jacob, he said, has been treated unfairly. “The way it’s presented in most of the media is that a group of scientists has made a fantastic discovery, and this discovery has been ‘stolen’ by an old Indonesian scientist,” Hublin told The Scientist. “I do believe it’s a case of Western arrogance.”