Straight outta BBC News and National Geographic News comes word that Dean Falk is definitively saying Homo floresiensis was a completely new species. You can have a read at each article here, “‘Hobbit’ human ‘is a new species’” and ““Hobbit” Was Own Species, Not Diseased Human, Brain Study Says.”
Falk and crew published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which by now you should know is notoriously bad at timing press releases like this with publications of the entire paper… so we’re gonna have to wait to see exactly what she and her colleagues have found out. When the paper is once published, you can access it at this link, “Brain shape in human microcephalics and Homo floresiensis.” But, in the mean time, what I have gathered is that Falk is defining the size, shape, and morphology of the brain as the definitive phenotype of a new species. Two years ago they published a paper similar in methodology, titled, “The Brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis.” In this current paper, their sample size was a bit small, and limited to only,
“10 normal humans, nine microcephalics, one dwarf and the Hobbit.The brain leaves a mirror image imprinted onto the skull, from which anatomists can reconstruct its shape. The resulting brain cast is called an endocast.
Professor Falk’s team scanned all 21 skulls into a computer and then created a “virtual endocast” using specialist software.”
What Falk found was two characteristics that distinguished microcephalic brains from Homo floresiensis. An image from the publication shows a human microcephalic to your left and a Homo floresiensis to your upper right. In laymen terms, “The bottom part sticks out in the back, and the region behind the forehead is unusually narrow,” I can’t really quite translate into scientific terms because I really don’t know what the ‘bottom part’ translates too… is that the cerebellum or occipital lobe?
Curiously, Falk admits that they couldn’t fully negate the claim that Homo floresiensis wasn’t a microcephalic modern human,
“The team was unable to obtain information about another microcephalic skull that a third research team said resembled the hobbit and thus supported the argument that LB1 was diseased, not a new species.”
All in all this is proving to be an interesting paper. I don’t quite know how I feel about the brain cast comparison. I woulda liked to see more comparisons to other microcephalic casts, but that coulda been limited to the sample available. Maybe more Homo floresiensis fossils will be found out, now that the cave in which these specimens were found has now been reopened for research.