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Did "Hobbits" Really Exist? New Evidence Suggests Yes

Unusual features suggest that remains discovered on an Indonesian island belong to a newly discovered human species.

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Eleanor Weston, who led the study, said that the hippo shows for the first time that island dwarfism results in the miniaturisation of skull and brain seen in the hobbit. Dr Weston said: "Whatever the explanation for the tiny brain of H. floresiensis relative to its body size it is likely the fact it lived on an island played a significant part in its evolution."

Intelligence test: The concept of island dwarfism

A key difficulty with the idea that the hobbits are a new species of human is that their brains are so small. How could a brain about the size of a grapefruit provide the intelligence to make and use the exquisitely carved stone tools found alongside the bones of H. floresiensis ?

Adrian Lister and Eleanor Weston of the Natural History Museum in London believe that their expertise in studying "island dwarfism" in other animals has resolved the problem. Their study of an extinct species of dwarf hippo on the island of Madagascar showed for the first time that skull and braincase do indeed become smaller in direct proportion to the miniaturisation of other parts of a dwarfed body. In other words, the exceptionally small head and brain of H. floresiensis can be explained by evolutionary pressures resulting from living on an island, rather than the result of some kind of medical condition. And they seemed to have lived happily with small brains.

Island dwarfism is a well-known phenomenon. Extinct pygmy mammoths have been found on Wrangel Island in Siberia, along with dwarfed elephants on Mediterranean islands. Dwarfism is a way of surviving the limited resources of an isolated habitat, Dr Weston said.

"We found that the brain sizes of extinct dwarf hippos were up to 30 per cent smaller than you would expect by scaling down their mainland African ancestor," said Dr Weston. "If the hippo model is applied to a typical H. erectus ancestor, the resulting brain capacity is comparable to that of H. floresiensis ."

 
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