Tag Archives: Homo floresiensis

‘Hobbit’ people on Flores Island are definitely not Homo Sapiens

The smaller humans who lived on the Flores Island in Indonesia until 12,000 years ago were not Homo sapiens but a different species, a new study confirms.

A cast of the Homo floresiensis skull, American Museum of Natural History

There were two schools of thought on this. Initially, the discovery of diminutive remains stirred a hot debate in the anthropological world. They were initially though to be a new branch of humans, but not everybody was sold on this theory. The first convincing evidence that they are a different species emerged in 2008, but a group still claimed that Homo floresiensis (as they were called) is not a different species, but that it evolved this way due to nutritional deficiencies, genetic defects or something similar.

Now, this new study builds a stronger case that Homo floresiensis was a different species. Researchers analyzed skull bones and found no evidence of genetic condition. Instead, they argue that this is a case of “insular dwarfing”.

When several generations of an animal are stuck in a relatively small environment like an island, with limited resources, they tend to get smaller and smaller. This process has occurred many times throughout evolutionary history, with examples including dinosaurs, elephants and maybe even humans.

“So far, we have been basing our conclusions on images where you don’t really see very much,” said lead author Antoine Balzeau, a scientist at France’s Natural History Museum.

Together with Philippe Charlier, a palaeopathologist at Paris-Descartes University specialising in solving ancient medical mysteries, they procured high-resolution images recently generated in Japan to compute maps of bone thickness variation.

“There is a lot of information contained in bone layers of the skull,” Mr Balzeau said. “There were no characteristics from our species” — that is, Homo sapiens.

So the “hobbits” are not malformed humans, but this leaves us with another question. Was Homo floresiensis a Homo sapiens that shrunk and changed after it was stuck on an island, or was it a completely new species? The question is still open.

The hobbits may not be real – Flores bones show features of Down syndrome, not new species

In 2004, anthropologists and archaeologists working in Indonesia uncovered what was named “the biggest anthropological finding for 100 years” – fragmentary skeletal remains from the island of Flores were uncovered, appearing to be a new species: Homo floresiensis. But now, new research challenges that find, claiming that the uncovered skeletons were in fact just an abnormal human, most consistent with Down syndrome.

Reconstruction of “the Hobbit”

We’ve written several articles describing studies on Homo floresiensis – in 2007, an international team of researchers led by the Smithsonian Institution described it as a 3-foot-tall, 18,000-year-old hominin skeleton with no chin, and less than one year later, Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa claimed that it was not a new species, but rather an already known one, deformed through unhealthy nutrition or genetic defects. The scientific community remained torn between two camps: those who believed it was a new species, and those who believed it was just an aberration.

Now, a new study by Robert B. Eckhardt, professor of developmental genetics and evolution at Penn State, Maciej Henneberg, professor of anatomy and pathology at the University of Adelaide, and Kenneth Hsü, a Chinese geologist and paleoclimatologist, suggests that the single specimen (known as LB1) on which the new designation depend does not represent a new species. Instead, they propose a genetic malformation – most likely Down syndrome.

“The skeletal sample from Liang Bua cave contains fragmentary remains of several individuals,” Eckhardt said. “LB1 has the only skull and thigh bones in the entire sample.”

This figure compares the skull of LB1 to that of Liang Momer E, another skull from Flores, dated in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. Credit: © Photograph of Liang Momer

They also claim some wrong measurements were made when the skull was analyzed initially. The original figures for cranial volume and stature are underestimates, “markedly lower than any later attempts to confirm them.” Eckhardt, Henneberg, and other researchers have consistently found a cranial volume of about 430 milliliters (26.2 cubic inches). The original figure was 380 milliliters (23.2 cubic inches).

“The difference is significant, and the revised figure falls in the range predicted for a modern human with Down syndrome from the same geographic region,” Eckhardt said.

The bottom line is, it’s borderline impossible to prove that the skull belongs to a new species or if it is a genetic aberration. There are some indications that it would be a new species, and, as this team found, that it is not something new, but rather a human suffering from Down syndrome.

“When we first saw these bones, several of us immediately spotted a developmental disturbance,” said Eckhardt, “but we did not assign a specific diagnosis because the bones were so fragmentary. Over the years, several lines of evidence have converged on Down syndrome.”

But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and one skull and spread out bones are, in my opinion, not enough to fully justify the existence of Homo floresiensis.

Brain like tissue developed in lab

Scientists grow brain-like tissue in petri dish

Most medical research looking to identify the mechanisms of a disease or test treatments rely on animal models. While very useful, mice for instance (a favorite lab pet for researchers) do not have nearly the same brain structure or genes as humans. Even if some genes and proteins scientists target are the same both in mice and humans, it will still be unclear whether a treatment will work for both organisms, something very important to keep in mind especially when preparing clinical trials.

The most sound alternative to this would be to culture human organs and cells for testing, and great strides forward have been made in this direction in the past decade alone.  Jürgen Knoblich and Madeline Lancaster, both researchers working in labs at the Austrian Academy of  Sciences,  are also part of this collective scientific effort of culturing human cells for research purposes. The researchers successfully grew hundreds of 4-mm white blobs of neurons from stem cells induced from adult skin cells. Remarkably, these blogs developed specialized regions, similar to the way a human brain would develop in utero.

Brain like tissue developed in lab

(c) Nature

Previously we’ve reported how other scientists had grown human lungs, kidneys and even a heart that beats on its own (all primitive versions, not really comparable yet to the natural counterpart), while other efforts have concentrated on culturing intestines, pituitaries, and simple retinas. Testing treatments on these lab grown structures helps scientist surmount some of the challenges that come with animal models, including animal cruelty in some cases. The brain, however, is far more complex than any of these and as such is very difficult to replicate in the lab.

Knoblich and colleagues first collected fibroblasts (collagen generating skin cells), and induced these to become stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells). These cells were placed in a nutrient rich gel, which allowed them to replicate into a sort of big ball of cells, akin to the embryo development stage of typical brain in utero. Some of these cells became precusor cells for neural tissue. The innovative part came in the last stage, when the researchers placed their cultured cells into a bioreactor which helped spread and distribute nutrients into the primitive brain-like tissue much in the same blood vessels would deliver the nutrients in a ‘conventional’ developing brain. The resulting brain-like structures are called cerebral organoids.

“If you’re studying brain development, you would like to see the cells develop somewhat like a brain,” says Wynshaw-Boris, who wasn’t involved in the new study. “These organoids gradually differentiate into many different types of cells. It’s not really a brain, but seems to recapitulate brain development. This is much better than any of the past efforts, in terms of the number and types of cells.”

Using the spinning nutrient distribution provided by the bioreactor, the cultured organoids reached new levels of complexity compared to previous attempts, allowing them to develop in regions similar in composition (but not in complexity) to the brain’s cerebral cortex, choroid plexus, retina, and meninges.

A brain in a petri dish

What’s most interesting about the research is that not does it only show it’s possible to culture a brain or at least a brain-like tissue in the lab, but also to use it as a model to study diseases. The researchers grew organoids using skin cells taken from a patient with microcephaly – a disorder characterized by a dramatic reduction in the size of a person’s brain. The neural tissue hared many of the trademark features of microcephaly, including reduced size. The scientists infer that in people with microcephaly, the founding neural cells don’t replicate and differentiate properly in the developing embryo, later leading to a smaller brain.

Like most current attempts at culturing human organs, the cultured organoids are simple and lack the far reaching complexity of a mature brain – they’re millions of miles apart. . A developing brain contains blood vessels that deliver nutrients and energy with which to grow, but modern science hasn’t been able to fully duplicate those blood vessels yet – the same problem that pesters other researchers hard at work culturing human hearts for instance. In fact, Knoblich believes we won’t ever be able to develop a functioning human brain, the way we’re used to thinking of it at least. Even so, it would raise some serious ethical questions. Deep down in a lab grown functioning brain’s recesses, in a cold petri dish, would a human consciousness lurk? Would you be essentially growing a human being? Such discussions have been a subject of debate for many years concerning abortions, and this new research adds further food for thought.

Findings were reported in the journal Nature.

A reconnstruction of the "The Hobbit's" face, according to a forensic facial approximation. University of Wollongong

Real-life hobbit’s face revealed after reconstruction

Coincident with the much anticipated release of the new Lord of the Rings flick, a forensic anthropologist went through the painstaking process of reconstructing the face of the now famous Flores “hobbit”. The facial reconstruction shows a figure that looks a lot more modern than scientists would have thought.

 

A reconnstruction of the "The Hobbit's" face, according to a forensic facial approximation. University of Wollongong

A reconnstruction of the “The Hobbit’s” face, according to a forensic facial approximation. University of Wollongong

Homo floresiensis caused a wave of controversy when then hominid species was first discovered in Flores, Indonesia in 2003. Scientists engaged in a debate, with some claiming that the tiny 3 feet 6 inches tall specimen belongs to a new hominid species of its own, while others argued that the specimen was a diseased individual belonging to a more modern race.

The hobbit fossils were found in Flores’s Liang Bua Cave and dated to between 95,000 and 17,000 years ago. Multiple other skeletons, although incomplete, have been found since the initial discovery, yet still  H. floresiensis stands under the shadow of doubt as a whole species.

What interesting to note is that the hobbit made tools on par with the humans of the time, despite having a brain 1/3 their size and lived during a time when all other hominins had died out (except H. sapiens).

Regardless,  Dr Susan Hayes, a Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong and specialist facial anthropologist, used an exact replica of the Flores Hobbit skull and built fat and muscle tissue around it. The reconstruction results are quite surprising, showing high cheekbones, long ears and a broad nose.

“She’s not what you’d call pretty, but she is definitely distinctive,” Dr Hayes said in a statement.

“She’s taken me a bit longer than I’d anticipated, has caused more than a few headaches along the way, but I’m pleased with both the methodological development and the final results.”

Darren Curnoe, a human evolution specialist at the University of New South Wales, said the face looked more modern than he expected.

“The bones are really quite primitive looking and look a bit like pre-humans that lived two or three million years ago but this new construction looks, to me, surprisingly modern,” he said.

“I think it’s really interesting to see a new approach founded in forensic science and it can actually progress the ways we can understand what Homo floresiensis looked like. What we have seen, until now, have been artistic interpretations, very beautiful ones, but I think this really takes it to a new level and gives us a more scientific and accurate view of what the hobbit looked like.”

Forensic facial approximation methods helped give an idea of how the muscle and fat intersected with the hobbit’s skull . (c) University of Wollongong

Forensic facial approximation methods helped give an idea of how the muscle and fat intersected with the hobbit’s skull . (c) University of Wollongong

Indeed, H. floresiensis is an extremely interesting species, if that’s the case. Where exactly does it fit in the human evolutionary line is yet to be determine, and this is where anthropologists are currently channeling their efforts towards.

via The Conversation

 

A skull from a specimen, recovered from Longlin cave in China, belonging to the Red Deer Cave people - possibly a new species of human. (c) Darren Curnoe

Mysterious hominid fossils found in China hint towards a new human species

A skull from a specimen, recovered from Longlin cave in China, belonging to the Red Deer Cave people - possibly a new species of human. (c) Darren Curnoe

A skull from a specimen, recovered from Longlin cave in China, belonging to the Red Deer Cave people - possibly a new species of human. (c) Darren Curnoe

An incredible find was publicized just earlier  – fossils remains from stone age people were unearthed from two caves in China. Upon further inspection it was found that the bone features, particularly skulls, were unlike any other human or early ancestor remains ever found, suggesting that the researchers may have actually found a new species of human.

Bones, including partial skulls, have been unearthed from at least four individuals, which were estimated to have lived some 14,300 to 11,500 years ago. Presenting anatomical features which mix both archaic and modern human complexion, the Red Deer Cave people, as they’ve been called after the name of the location they’ve been found in, have simply stunned researchers.

“They could be a new evolutionary line or a previously unknown modern human population that arrived early from Africa and failed to contribute genetically to living east Asians,” said Darren Curnoe, who led the research team at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

“While finely balanced, I think the evidence is slightly weighted towards the Red Deer Cave people representing a new evolutionary line. First, their skulls are anatomically unique. They look very different to all modern humans, whether alive today or in Africa 150,000 years ago,” Curnoe told the Guardian.

“Second, the very fact they persisted until almost 11,000 years ago, when we know that very modern looking people lived at the same time immediately to the east and south, suggests they must have been isolated from them. We might infer from this isolation that they either didn’t interbreed or did so in a limited way.”

The fossils were retrieved from two cave sites in China, Maludong, or Red Deer Cave, near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan province, and Longlin cave,  in southwest China. Curiously enough, the fossils were initially found encased in blocks of rock, which hid their features and thus lead them to be ignored. The Red Deer Cave remains were found 1989, while the Longlin cave remains were found in 1979, however they remained unstudied until 2008. Were it not for the inherent curiosity of the researchers involved in the project to study these fossils, they simply would’ve remained to this day in some warehouse, gathering dust as they did for millennias.

“In 2009, when I was in China working with co-author Professor Ji Xueping, he showed me the block of rock that contained the skull,” Curnoe recalled. “After picking my own jaw up from the floor, we decided we had to make the remains a priority of our research.”

Quite possibly a new species of human. How were they different?

Artist impression of what the Red Cave People might have looked like between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago. (c) Peter Schouten

Artist impression of what the Red Cave People might have looked like between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago. (c) Peter Schouten

The individuals have, in some respects, unique features to humans. For instance, strongly curved forehead bone, a very broad nose and eye sockets, large molar teeth, prominent brows, thick skulls and flat faces, which flare widely on the side making wide for very strong chewing muscles. Their brains were average sized by ice age standards, and they used to cook their meals, judging from the number of mammal skeletons found nearby the remains, all of them species still around today, with the exception of the giant red deer.

The Red Deer People are the earliest population found so far, which does not adhere to modern human anatomical conformity. In fact, they’re unique in respect to any other species in the human evolutionary tree. Fact most curious, when considering that their location was surrounded by modern human populations, as attested by fossil evidence from the same period. The researchers suggest that they either stayed extremely isolated or kept interbreeding off-grounds.

This is the latest, although not yet confirmed as a new species, of a wave of new identified human species found only in these recent past years. Homo floresiensis or the “hobbit”, which lived on the island of Flores, Indonesia, until as recently as 17,000 years ago, was first discovered in 2007. The Denisovans lived around 30,000 years ago and the first and only trace of them so far was found in the Denisovan Caves of Siberia in 2010. All of them found in Asia, along with past Neanderthal sites and this latest one in China.

Curnoe and colleagues have a couple of possible scenarios concerning the existence of these Red Deer Cave people. One is that they’re part of very early migration of a primitive-looking Homo sapiens that lived separately from other forms in Asia before dying out, while another assumes that they were indeed a distinct hominid species, which evolved in Asia and lived near modern human populace. The last hypothesis is the most interesting, as well – they were hybrids.

“It’s possible these were modern humans who inter-mixed or bred with archaic humans that were around at the time,” explained Dr Isabelle De Groote, a palaeoanthropologist from London’s Natural History Museum.

“The other option is that they evolved these more primitive features independently because of genetic drift or isolation, or in a response to an environmental pressure such as climate

The findings were reported on March 14 in the journal PLoS ONE.

Tiny Pacific skeletons lead to hobbit debate

hobbit[digg-me] [reddit-me]After it was proved that Homo floresiensis (”Man of Flores”, nicknamed Hobbit) is a different species than humans, the tiny skeletons found in the caves of the Pacific islands of Palau let to the theory that similar remains found in Indonesia are a very unique species.

The Palau skeletons which are from 900 and 2800 years old seem to have belonged to the “insular dwarfs”, as they have been named. Scientists believe that they have grown smaller due to the life on the island. They claim that these findings could prove that a similar thing happened in Indonesia, where the small skeletons aging from 15,000 to 18,000 were found, intriguing scientists ever since when they were found, in 2004.

Still, there are groups that claim Homo floresiensis is not a different species, but that it evolved this way due to nutritional deficiencies, genetic defects or something similar. The thing is that the Palau dwarfs (let’s call them this way) share traits from both H. sapiens and H. floresiensis, which complicates things even more. Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, says neither he nor his colleagues can explain this.

“These rock islands contain numerous caves and rock shelters, and many of these sites contain abundant fossilised or subfossilised human remains,” they write in their report.
“At least 10 burial caves have been discovered in the rock islands, and excavations at one of them (Chelechol ra Orrak) has produced the skeletal remains of at least 25 individuals,” they add.

New Light Shed On The ‘Hobbit’

 

hobbit

Homo floresiensis (“Man of Flores”, nicknamed Hobbit) is the name for what may be a species in the genus Homo, remarkable for its small body, small brain, and survival until relatively recent times. It is a 3-foot-tall, 18,000-year-old hominin skeleton with no chin and some other  strange and less obvious features. It is believed that the species has survived on Flores until at least as recently as 12,000 years ago making it the longest-lasting non-modern human, surviving long past the Neanderthals. There is also evidence of advanced the use of fire for cooking in Liang Bua cave, and evidence of cut marks on the Stegodon bones associated with the finds; they also probably used stone tools of the sophisticated Upper Paleolithic tradition typically associated with modern humans.

An international team of researchers led by the Smithsonian Institution has finished a study and it offers one of the most striking confirmations of the original interpretation of the hobbit as an island remnant. The brain is way smaller than that of a human yet they do show obvious sings of intelligence. So it was strange for the researchers to study the 12 skeletons discovered and find out that the hobbit’s wrist is basically indistinguishable from an African ape or early hominin-like wrist. So this makes it clear that the hobbit is not a human with a growth disorder but that it is indeed a different species of human as was originally proposed by its discoverers.

They used cutting-edge 3-D technology to study which would have not been an option years ago. The 3-D techniques used for the analysis were developed during the past few years at the Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling at Arizona State University. The lead author of the study, Matt Tocheri concluded:

“Basically, the wrist evidence tells us that modern humans and Neandertals share an evolutionary grandparent that the hobbits do not, but all three share an evolutionary great-grandparent. If you think of modern humans and Neandertals as being first cousins, then the hobbit is more like a second cousin to both.”.

Think about that for a large family.