Science

Wrists of 'hobbit' fossil suggest new species

A diminutive humanoid fossil found on a remote island in Indonesia represents a new species, and not a modern human with a growth defect, according to scientists who published new evidence on Thursday.

A diminutive humanoid fossil found on a remote island in Indonesia represents a new species, and not a modern human with a growth defect, according to scientists who published new evidence on Thursday.

The study of the wrist bones of the Homo floresiensis fossil — dubbed "the Hobbit" — found that their wrists were far more primitive than either Neanderthals or modern humans. This suggests they were an entirely different species that branched off before the origin of a group of hominids that wouldinclude Neanderthals and modern humans, said the authors of a study published in the journal Science.

Since its discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, the fossil, known as LB1, has become the subject of intense scrutiny and debate in the scientific community.

The fossil became known as "the Hobbit" in the press, after the diminutive characters in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels.

Critics have suggested the fossil's small skull was too small to have accommodated the tool-making intelligence attributed to the humanoid after stone-flaking technology was found at the same site.

And an article in Science in 2006 suggested the skull of LB1 was more likely to be found in someone with a genetic illness that causes dwarfism.

The authors of the most recent study, led by Matthew Tocheri of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, looked at three types of wrist bones and compared them with those of Neanderthals, modern humans, living great apes and ancient human ancestors like Australopithecus.

The hobbit wrists were far more similar to those of great apes and ancient human ancestors than to our recent relatives.

The authors suggest the later development of more complex wrist structures may have helped human descendants use stone tools more efficiently.

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