The Loom

Return of the Microcephalic Hobbit

i-c554df96a4f21e670b7b9115e540b7ef-new hobbit.jpgThe Sunday Times in the UK reported yesterday on an upcoming paper that claims that the ever-fascinating Homo floresiensis (a k a the Hobbit) is not a new species, as previously reported. Instead, it was a human with a genetic defect called microcephaly that gave it a small head.

This is a long-standing criticism, but only a couple papers based on it have been published since the Hobbit fossils were discovered almost two years ago. The article doesn’t have a lot of details. When the new paper comes out (in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) I guess we’ll get more.

For my previous hobbit tales, go here.

Update: 4/21 12:30 pm: PNAS was keeping the paper under embargo, but now with the Times story out, they’ve lifted it. So there’s a flood of information out now:

John Noble Wilford in the New York Times

Press release from Penn State

Still no paper posted yet at PNAS’s own web site, though…

Update, 8/22 9:50 am: John Hawks muses.


  1. #1 Filipe
    August 22, 2006

    John Hawks has one figure related to the new paper in his blog. The mirror image of the skull. Without access to a 3D model of the skull to test deformations it’s not easy to interpret. Is the paper available? I can not find it in the PNAS site…

    I expect a strong reaction from the original team. The next days/months will be interesting.

  2. #2 Mart�n Cagliani
    August 22, 2006

    In this news the original team go out complaining for “unethical scientific practice”. John Hawks have a nice analisis of the paper (sill not publish).

  3. #3 Vijay Sundaram
    August 22, 2006

    This posting as well as the more detailed synopsis by John Hawks brings a new twist to this enigmatic find. Even if LB1 happens to be an individual with microcephaly, there may be an interesting sociological phenomenon here. How was LB1 able to survive with such a pathological condition for many years (the specimen is an adult)? Was this individual a beneficiary of community care? There was an article not too long ago on the discovery of a older Neanderthal specimen with worn or missing teeth indicative of some form of social care in that community. Would this example pre-date that?

  4. #4 Martín Cagliani
    August 22, 2006

    No, the evidence of social care in neanderthal it’s dated 190.000 years. Found in 2001, publish at the same PNAS, by Eric Trinkaus.

  5. #5 Filipe
    August 24, 2006

    Ot’s online now. Open access.

  6. #6 Owlmirror
    August 24, 2006

    Link to Open Access article here; full article is a PDF:

    (Pygmoid Australomelanesian Homo sapiens skeletal remains from Liang Bua, Flores: Population affinities and pathological abnormalities)

  7. #7 Ross
    August 24, 2006

    Good scientific theories are falsifiable and should enable predictions. Do we have any idea of what sort of evidence will remove doubt from this issue, one way or the other?

  8. #8 Filipe
    August 25, 2006

    Quite likely a second skull would settle things. But even some more arm bones would be important, since another example of similar humeral torsion would invalidate most of this paper. More skeletons are needed, and it would be nice if they looked also in Timor for example.

    My problem with modern humans is the age of the oldest remains (80,000 to 90,000 years). Unless there is something is wrong with the stratigraphy of the place it is very early. I also dislike this paper due to the way these guys got access to the bones.

  9. #9 David B. Benson
    August 25, 2006

    Filipe — My reading of the archeological literature suggests that the age of the oldest remains is consistent with modern humans leaving Africa about 130,000 years ago. Scroll way down to Carl Zimmer’s post about A. Templeton’s paper. Also, modern human remains in South China are now firmly dated to about 76,000 years ago, etc.

  10. #10 Steve Dupey
    September 23, 2006

    When I read John Hawks’ blog on the above-mentioned paper by T. Jacob and company, how seriously should I be taking any of this in the scientific sense? I mean it was my impression that the pathology of T. Jacob was as much of a question here as that of Skull LB1. Isn’t this guy accused of scientific gross incompetence and lying? Assuming there is credence to those accusations (and correct me if I have heard wrongly), is there some reason anyone should take anything this person says at face value, including his stated statistics and methods and interpretations of them, and conclusions about LB1?
    Oh I forgot to include another of the charges, “theft” to this person’s credentials in this lofty scientific
    Now why would I give someone with these kinds of credentials anymore confidence than I would some creationist attempting to place Lb1 in the proper context of our holy family shrub? Were the statisics and measurements and ranges of variation cited in this research also stolen, broken, layered with rubber, torn free, and then also incorrectly wrenched in and forcefit where they didn’t even belong?
    Why aren’t we studying the jawbones of Pigmoid Australomelanesians, either pathological or otherwise, and modern or ancient? Jawbones are what we have to work with , and jawbones should be able to decide this. Are people just ignoring jawbones because they dont have eyesockets and therefore aren’t as glamorous. With all the bs going on about microcephalic pigmies, why doesn’t anyone have something to say about their jaws?
    Just felt like doing some jawing. Steve Dupey

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