The skeletal remains of a diminutive small-brained hominin found in Late Pleistocene cave deposits on the island of Flores, Indonesia were assigned to a new species, Homo floresiensis [Brown P, et al. (2004) A new small-bodied hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia. Nature 431: 1055-1061]. A dramatically different interpretation is that this material belongs not to a novel hominin taxon but to a population of small-bodied modern humans affected, or unaffected, by microcephaly. The debate has primarily focused on the size and shape of the endocranial cavity of the type specimen, LB1, with less attention being paid to the morphological evidence provided by the rest of the LB1 cranium and postcranium, and no study thus far has addressed the problem of how scaling would affect shape comparisons between a diminutive cranium like LB1 and the much larger crania of modern humans. We show that whether or not the effects of its small cranial size are accounted for, the external cranial morphology of the LB1 cranium cannot be accommodated within a large global sample of normal modern human crania. Instead, the shape of LB1, which is shown by multivariate analysis to differ significantly from that of modern humans, is similar to that of Homo erectus sensu lato, and, to a lesser extent, Homo habilis. Our results are consistent with hypotheses that suggest the Liang Bua specimens represent a diminutive population closely related to either early H. erectus s. l. from East Africa and/or Dmanisi or to H. habilis.
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