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Hobbit not descended from homo erectus, study finds

Homo floresiensis, a tiny human species otherwise known as the hobbit, most likely evolved from an ancestor in Africa and not from Homo erectus as has been widely believed, a new study found.

The fossil study by Australian National University found Homo floresiensis were most likely a sister species of Homo habilis, one of the earliest known species of human found in Africa 1.75 million years ago.

The fossil of Homo floresiensis was discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, where it lived until as recently as 54,000 years ago.

The new study concludes there was no evidence for the theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, which lived on the Indonesian mainland of Java.

Study leader Dr. Debbie Argue of the ANU School of Archaeology & Anthropology, said the results should help put to rest a debate that has been hotly contested since the discovery of Homo floresiensis.

“It’s possible that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or the common ancestor moved from Africa then evolved into Homo floresiensis somewhere,” Argue said.

Previous research had focused mostly on the skull and lower jaw, but the new study used 133 data points ranging across the skull, jaws, teeth, arms, legs and shoulders.

Dr Argue said none of the data supported the theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from Homo erectus.

“We found that if you try and link them on the family tree, you get a very unsupported result. All the tests say it doesn’t fit — it’s just not a viable theory,” she said

The analyses could also support the theory that Homo floresiensis could have branched off earlier in the timeline, more than 1.75 million years ago.

“If this was the case Homo floresiensis would have evolved before the earliest Homo habilis, which would make it very archaic indeed,” she said.

By: David Beasley Staff Writer

Source: Australian National University

Image Credit: Katrina Kenny, SA Museum

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