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'Hobbit' fossils represent a new species, concludes University of Minnesota anthropologist
Date:12/17/2008

University of Minnesota anthropology professor Kieran McNulty (along with colleague Karen Baab of Stony Brook University in New York) has made an important contribution toward solving one of the greatest paleoanthropological mysteries in recent history -- that fossilized skeletons resembling a mythical "hobbit" creature represent an entirely new species in humanity's evolutionary chain.

Discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, controversy has surrounded the fossilized hominid skeletons of the so-called "hobbit people," or Homo floresiensis ever since. Experts are still debating whether the 18,000-year-old remains merely belong to a diminutive population of modern-day humans (with one individual exhibiting "microcephaly," an abnormally small head) or represent a previously unrecognized branch in humanity's family tree.

Using 3D modeling methods, McNulty and his fellow researchers compared the cranial features of this real-life "hobbit" to those of a simulated fossil human (of similar stature) to determine whether or not such a species was distinct from modern humans.

"[Homo floresiensis] is the most exciting discovery in probably the last 50 years," said McNulty. "The specimens have skulls that resemble something that died a million years earlier, and other body parts reminiscent of our three-million-year-old human ancestors, yet they lived until very recently -- contemporaries with modern humans."

Comparing the simulation to the original Flores skull discovered in 2003, McNulty and Baab were able to demonstrate conclusively that the original "hobbit" skull fits the expectations for a small fossil hominin species and not a modern human. Their study was published online this month in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The cranial structure of the fossilized skull, says the study, clearly places it in humanity's genus Homo, even though it would be smaller in both body and brain size than any oth
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Contact: Patty Mattern
mattern@umn.edu
612-624-2801
University of Minnesota
Source:Eurekalert

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