Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

September 28, 2010

The hobbits were cretins. Perhaps. Or perhaps not

Filed under: Anthroplogy,H. floresiensis,Hobbits,Human Evolution,paleontology — Razib Khan @ 12:53 am

I was thinking a bit about H. floresiensis today. Probably my thoughts were triggered by John Hawks’ post on the propensity for paleontologists to be “splitters,” naming new finds as species when they’re not. The issue with H. floresiensis is a little more cut & dried: if they weren’t a separate species they were obviously pathological. The original paper on the Flores hobbits came out in 2004. Is it too much to ask for a little clarity here six years on? Carl Zimmer has covered this story in depth before, so perhaps he’ll have some insights or inside sources who can shed some light at some point in the near future. John Hawks was sure that the specimens were pathological in the early days, but he hasn’t said much for a bit now. And from what I hear there are new controversies about “Ardi”. I was at a talk years ago where Tim White played up the importance of fossils as the final word, as opposed to the more indirect inferential methods of statistical genetics, but this is getting ridiculous. After the Neandertal admixture paper and the Denisova hominin, genomic inferences are looking pretty good. I assume there’s more coming in the near future (though Svante Pääbo may have kidnapped family members of people working in his lab to gain leverage, so word probably won’t start leaking until a few weeks before the paper breaks). Ötzi the Iceman is going to have his genome published next year.

With all that as preamble, here’s a new paper, Post-Cranial Skeletons of Hypothyroid Cretins Show a Similar Anatomical Mosaic as Homo floresiensis. It’s in PLoS ONE, so read it yourself. Does anyone care? I don’t know enough about about anatomy and osteology to make well-informed judgments about these sorts of things, so to the experts I absolutely defer. But frankly some of the experts strike me jokers. Here’s the problem: I don’t know who the jokers are!

I just went back and reread some of the press when the hobbit finds were revealed. New member of the human family tree! Evolution rewritten! And so forth. If H. floresiensis turns out to be pathological, I don’t know what to think about paleontology. More honestly, I might start slotting the discipline in with social psychology or macroeconomic modeling.

June 15, 2010

Hobbits on NOVA

Filed under: Anthroplogy,Flores,Hobbits — Razib Khan @ 2:25 am

This looks interesting, Aliens from Earth:

An ancient legend on the Indonesian island of Flores tells of an elflike creature similar to the fictional hobbit of novels and film. But a controversial 2003 archeological find not only suggests that there could be some truth behind the legend but promises to rewrite a key chapter in the human evolutionary story. This program investigates the discovery, analysis, and startling implications of the hobbit of Flores.

Airs tonight in the USA.

February 24, 2010

The Hobbits Six Years On

Filed under: Flores,Hobbits,Human Evolution — Razib @ 11:36 pm

The Guardian has a long piece about the hobbits of Flores, and how they may have split from from the lineage which led to H. sapiens further back in time than had previously been assumed. In other words, where the hobbits had been theorized to have been a local adaptation of H. erectus, now the model is that they are the descendants of habilis or some other earlier hominin. In classic British style the article seems somewhat sensationalized to me, not to mention using terms that seem quaintly archaic, like “apemen.” I stopped paying attention to the hobbit stories after it seemed obvious that paleoanthropologists couldn’t agree on what they were. In other words, I’ve put it into a class similar to ALH 84001. What do readers think?

Note: Wasn’t too impressed with Mike Morwood’s book A New Human.

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