Bill Jungers’ conclusions on Homo floresiensis bipedalism — the clown-footed hominin

More reports have been coming out of last week’s meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and one that has caught my attention is a news article summarizing Bill Jungers‘ research on the Homo floresiensis foot morphology. Jungers recently published a research paper reanalyzing Orrorin bipedalism, along with his colleagues.

For this presentation, Jungers looked at the more or less complete left foot of LB1 and says that H. floresiensis had, “flat, clown-like feet.” The photo above are the fossilized H. floresiensis foot bones. In relation to the tibia and fibula fragments, these feet are larger.

From the New Scientist article,

Jungers’ team estimated the length of the hobbit’s feet, which were unusually large for its metre-high frame. “Sort of like a young girl wearing her mum’s shoes,” Junger says…

…And because of their long feet, H. floresiensis probably had to bend its knee further back than modern humans do, resulting in a sort of high-stepped gait. “You would watch these hobbits walk and say they’re walking a little funny,” Jungers says.

The foot had other peculiar features as well. For one, its big toe was quite short compared with the others, similar to earlier hominids such as Australopithecus. However, the shape of the toes, even the short big toe, is like modern human ones, Jungers says. “It has a human morphology and an ape-like proportion,” he says.”

So, he’s associating this morphology with a primitive hominid condition. Not all too novel…. a group did the same last fall, but with the wrist bones.

Nonetheless, I’m not convinced. Why?

A 2006 paper in the open access journal Anthropological Science investigated the big feet morphology of modern humans in Polynesia, which is close to Indonesia. That study found out that Polynesians have much longer and wider feet and hands than the other populations tested. The study gets into a discussion on how micro-evolutionary processes affected this phenotype. It is possible something similar happened to LB1. I’m still uncertain whether or not what we call H. floresiensis are anything but mutant modern humans

For those that wanna read the 2006 paper on big feet phenotype in Polynesia, the citation to that paper is right here:

    GONDA, E., KATAYAMA, K. (2006). Big feet in Polynesia: a somatometric study of the Tongans. Anthropological Science, 114(2), 127-131. DOI: 10.1537/ase.00097

11 thoughts on “Bill Jungers’ conclusions on Homo floresiensis bipedalism — the clown-footed hominin

  1. You call the LB1 foot bones “fossilised”. None of the LB1 bones were fossilised. They are archaeological bones still consisting of the original collagen and mineals (apatite). I have seen them in original. By use of incorrect terminology myths can be created.

  2. Thanks for catching that Dr. Henneberg. That was my mistake. You are correct, the original publication clearly writes that LB1’s skeleton is not fossilized:

    “The skeleton is extremely fragile and not fossilized or covered with calciumcarbonate.”

    I appreciate that you’ve taken the effort to clarify this. I’ve corrected the error.


  3. I am currently researching an anthropological project with respect to “fat” people and feet. I am so far able to look at the feet of a child (3 years+) and determine future height, body mass and intelligence.

    I have theorised that being fat was originally a genetic disposition of certain neanderthals who were destined to be larger from birth with the sole purpose of being slower than the pack… survival of the fittest, literally, determined from birth.

    I was wondering if you knew of any research which would aid in my own?

  4. I was wondering if anthropologists aren’t over looking the obvious when it comes to Hobbits ( Flores hominins ) and their big feet ?
    It was a small island surrounded by water. Could these people through natural selection not of developed big feet to swim faster .( like scuba divers flippers) Small heads and body to cut through water and generally adapt features that would help them hunt and swim after ocean prey ? (or away from it to keep from being eaten)
    Annette – TN
    Any stories or tales about mermaids in the area ? LOL

    1. I am rather partial to that view. Besides the popular miniature elephants, H floresiensis also ate sea creatures. I have done a lot of scuba diving. The fins I used were long, wide, and flat footed.

  5. These still apatite remnants are possibly related to the great trauma suffered by the Mediterranean basin when it reflooded [after the Pillars of Hercules had frozen over] early in the last Ice Age. my own Native American ancestors left their lake at the mouths of the Po and Rhone rivers by mammoth. In the eastern area of the basin Atlantis was destroyed, first by the great waves, then by the eruptions they triggered. Survivors along the Nile delta and sea could have migrated east and south. All the mammoths and their relatives are designed for swimming: the trunk is a snorkel. Since there are pygmy elephants on islands in the Indian Ocean, I would look for an environmental factor, probably herbaceous, like the cause for pygmyism, although it may be extinct. Another possibility is a now unknown bacterium or fungus or phytochemical that binds to Human Growth Factor the way the chemical in Capsicum spp. do.

  6. Have they verified that the bones are all those of a single individual? Could they have mixed up the foot bones of a larger individual with the leg bones of a smaller one? This question is not sufficiently addressed in the papers. Also has anyone ventured a drawing of the H. floresiensis feet “in the flesh” factoring in this new discovery? Or, indeed, their over-all appearance? If so, a link would be appreciated!

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