CBC’s “The Nature of Things” premiered a documentary called The Hobbit Enigma last night. I’ve covered this topic briefly in a series of posts I called Pygmy vs. Hobbit. The documentary was awesome…. at least for an off-by-one nerd like me. 

“The Hobbit” is a set of hominid remains found on the Indonesian island of Flores. These remains have been dated to be 18,000 years old which means they were contemporary with modern humans. 

The question is whether this is a completely new species (Homo floresiensis) or a subspecies/variant of an existing known hominid including possibly ourselves. You can find more details about the Homo florensiensis debate on Wikipedia. 

The evidence demonstrating that the small size was not due to microcephaly was interesting, however, ruling out a single pathology does not rule out ALL pathologies. The most pursuasive evidence supporting a new species was the demonstration that the carpal bone system matches early hominids or chimps.

The documentary also suggested that The Hobbit may be Australopithecus, that is, the same species as Lucy

The implications of this debate are far reaching. It is not simply a matter of adding a new species to the Hominid family tree, but one that challenges the “out of Africa” assumption. The head scratcher is how this species got to Flores. We know Homo erectus (much earlier) and us (Homo sapien sapien) were in this area, so The Hobbit being subspecies/variant of one of these two species does not challenge any long standing assumptions. If The Hobbit is Australopithecus or something completely new it is means we have to go back to the evolutionary drawing board.