Flores Hobbits real deal with wrists

By Razib Khan | September 20, 2007 2:43 pm

Remember those funny little Flores Hobbits? Carl Zimmer has followed the story like a master tracker over the years. In any case, Wrist bones bolster hobbit status:

Painstaking study of Homo floresiensis wrist bones shows that their wrists were far more primitive than ours — suggesting that they were evolutionarily distinct from modern humans. The hobbits’ wrists are so primitive-looking, say the researchers, that tracing our shared heritage would involve going back millions of years, perhaps to very birth of the genus Homo in Africa.

I wonder if John Hawks might comment soon (I recall years ago he was convinced the Hobbits were pathological, but no word for a while).
Update: ‘Little People’ of Indonesia Seem to Be Distinct Tribe:

But Robert B. Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics at Pennsylvania State University and one of several critics of the new-species designation, took issue with the new research. He said the wrist study appeared “to be an exercise in the presentation of misleading ideas in an obfuscatory manner.”
Dr. Eckhardt noted, in particular, that there is “a lot of variation in the form of wrist bones.” Some variations, he said, are normal and others occur “as the result of various pathologies, such as from injuries or from anomalies of development.”

I’ve not no idea is this is a classic “Earth sphere, views differ.” but what does “a lot of variation in the form of wrist bones” mean? Anyone know how morphometrics quantifies the variance (e.g., standard deviation units?). I’m not interested in whether the Flores Hobbits are a new species, only the phylogenetic implications.
Update II: The paper itself, The Primitive Wrist of Homo floresiensis and Its Implications for Hominin Evolution.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution
  • http://distributedrepublic.net Matt McIntosh

    I’m pretty sure he changed his mind about that. And you know what it means when Hawks has been quiet about something for a while…

  • http://distributedrepublic.net Matt McIntosh

    My mistake: Not a change of mind, but a shift to “sure looks pathological in some ways, but need more data to know what the hell’s going on here”.

  • http://archaeozoo.wordpress.com/ archaeozoo

    I’m not expert enough to judge what is and is not natural variation, however there are images up of the differences in the wrist bones at npr if others want to take a look for themselves.
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14546763

  • SteveF

    I think John’s still pretty much on the pathological side of the fence, though he may have become slightly less definate. In his most recent significant post on the subject, he concludes that evidence for pathology is strong but there is potentially data that could persuade him that it is a distinct species:
    http://johnhawks.net/weblog/fossils/flores/hershkovitz_laron_syndrome_2007.html
    With regards to Eckhardt, he also offers a strident quote in todays Grauniad:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/sep/21/2
    “If the evidence provided by the wrist bones is so important, why was it not part of the original description and diagnosis of the new species?” said Dr Eckhardt. “The answer is that the wrist bone evidence is not important in and of itself, but rather as a last ditch effort to save the supposed new species by finding some new “unique” feature.”
    Quite frankly, this strikes me as predominately bullshit. Still, it got him his name in the papers.

  • http://www.floresgirl.com Erik John Bertel

    Frankly, I wish there were more specimens available to address these ongoing debates. It’s getting tiresome hearing this wrangling about this single find especially when you consider the condition of the bones. The discovery of Homo floresiensis could be one of the great stories in human evolution and hopefully we’ll know more once the original research team gets back to the caves in Flores and to the other islands. Hard to believe, but their work was halted by the Indonesian government at one point further adding fuel to this mess.
    Of course, I have a vested interest in hoping this story has some validity to it, having written a fictional adventure novel called Flores Girl on the recent find. There is more on this ongoing controversy about Homo floresiensis at http://www.floresgirl.com
    Erik John Bertel

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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