Ever since the first description of Homo floresiensis in 2004, these controversial little hominins (“Hobbits?”) from the Indonesian island of Flores have raised very intriguing questions. Do these skeletal remains represent a new species in the extinct hominin family, or are they modern humans who were pathologically dwarfed, or members of a short-stature population? Or did the small island with its bleak food supply, over centuries of time, result in sufficiently strong selective pressures that changed the genome to “Smaller is better, i.e. a better chance of survival”? If H. floresiensis belong to a different species, what was its evolutionary origin? Why was it so different from other hominin species? The most common answer to these questions has been repeated for more than ten years: we cannot be certain; we need more remains from Flores — especially from different sites and older time periods — to tip the scales. On pages 245 and 249 of this issue [attached], authors report very convincing data to answer these questions.
After H. floresiensis had been described, many palaeoanthropologists embraced the idea of a new and odd-looking hominin species that had a diminutive brain and body size. Supporters of the pathology hypothesis, however, have been unrelenting in looking for syndromes and conditions that could have been responsible for the unexpectedly small size of these hominins; some suggestions have been published quite recently [Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2015; 111, 11967–11972]. The current exciting findings — from additional remains, consisting of a lower-jaw fragment, an indeterminate cranial fragment, and some small teeth from at least three different individuals — confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that H. floresiensis is a distinct hominin species with deep evolutionary roots — which trace back more than 700,000 years..!!
Nature 9 June 2016; 534: 249–253 & 245–248 [main articles] + pp 188–189 [News ‘n’ Views]