Faithful readers will recall our little offering (LSS 20.5.2020) about Homo naledi, the enigmatic hominin from South Africa. It was just to give you something to think about in lockdown. Now we’ve got another hominin puzzle for you. But this one is so baffling that the more we read about it, the less we feel we know. Let’s start.
In 2003 researchers in the Liang Bua caves on the island of Flores found the bones of a tiny little hominin which they nicknamed “the Hobbit”. There was evidence of tools, and fire. That settled, the controversies began. How old was the little creature? Why so small? Where did it come from? Was it a dwarf human, or was it another species? By 2021 a very rough consensus emerged, rightly challenged by some. It was a species called Homo floresiensis;* it lived between 50-60 000 years ago; tools associated with it range back to 190 000 years; small size is common in all species isolated on small islands. See the Wikipedia link below.
For us the problem is that it fits so very badly indeed with the conventional Story of Human Evolution. Once upon a time in East Africa there lived a group of apes called australopithecines who were nothing more than chimps running around on two legs. Then came a funny little fellow called Homo habilis*, who at least made tools and hunted a bit. Then about 1.8 million years ago came a tall,,noble near-human called Homo erectus* (or ergaster) who made magnificent tools, hunted, started fires, and whose brain was only a bit smaller than ours. Eventually this intrepid creature left Africa, strode out across Asia and began the mass slaughter for which we humans, clearly direct descendents, are so famous today.
Here come the puzzles. Health warning: the more you dig down to solve them, the worst they will get.
1 Why do the wrist, shoulders and other skeletal features of H floresiensis show strong affinities to Homo habilis who lived and died in Africa over a million years before?
2 How did the ancestors of the hobbits reach Flores? It is surrounded by deep fast-running straits, which never dried out, not even in the ice ages.
3 H habilis has been credited with using a very primitive type of tool called Oldowan. These are found all over Africa and Asia. Homo erectus produced much better tools, called Acheulian-but not Asia. What is going on?
4 What is the role of Homo georgicus in all this? Found in Dmansi, Georgia, it is very primitive for a Homo erectus, but a bit advanced to be a Homo habilis. The date, at 1.8 million years, is odd too. And so is the location.
How accurate are our definitions of certain hominin species? Who made what tools, and when? Why the huge gaps in space in time between apparently related creatures? Why are migrations only allowed out of Africa, and not the other way?
We wish you an interesting afternoon.
#hobbits #flores #humanevolution #scientificpuzzles #originsof boats