Sunday, August 25, 2013

Were the Flores People a Separate Species?

Ever since they were first discovered in 2004, the skeletal remains of a diminutive group of humans found on the island of Flores in Indonesia have been at the center of a controversy. Did the Flores people belong to a previously undiscovered species of the genus Homo, or were they simply modern humans (Homo sapiens) who suffered from some sort of growth disorder?

New evidence strongly supports the new-species hypothesis. In a paper published in PLOS One, researchers used CT scans to compare the brain shape of the one available skull of a Flores person to primitive species of Homo, to modern humans, and to modern humans with various growth disorders. They conclude that the Flores people are most closely related to the primitive human species known as Homo erectus. Furthermore, the evidence did not support the hypothesis that the Flores people were modern humans with a growth disorder, and so it seems appropriate to consider the Flores people a separate species of primitive Homo. Scientists have named the new species Homo floresiensis in honor of where they were discovered.

That’s where we stand today, at least. But the fact is that all this talk of a new species is based on just one skull and a partial skeleton, plus a bunch of bones of other individuals of the same group. It would be nice to have a few more skulls to really nail this thing down. Perhaps in time….

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