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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Hobbit" Controversy Makes Top 100 Science Stories

Newswise — The December 2008 issue of Discover magazine included in its top 100 science stories of the year studies that back the “new species” theory of the 18,000-year-old hominid found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004. The discovery of Homo floresiensis, nicknamed the “the hobbit” because of its diminutive size and strikingly large feet, remains controversial and could lead to rewriting the story of human evolution. Stony Brook University paleoanthropologists William Jungers, Ph.D., and Susan Larson, Ph.D., are among the researchers who suggest the hobbit represents a different species of human.

In the a section titled “Smackdown Over Ancient ‘Hobbit’ Continues” – number 85 in the top 100 – Discover cites the findings of “Hobbit” researchers. Regarding the work of Dr. Jungers, the section notes that he “studied the foot of the hobbit and found it, true to its namesake, strikingly large relative to the size of the body, with very short big toes. Jungers argues that this foot structure links the hobbit to earlier hominids.”

Commenting on the significance of the hobbit foot and its distinction as part of a top science story of the year as described by Discovery, Dr. Jungers adds that “the hobbits are not tiny pathological humans, and this implies that we shared the earth with other human-like creatures until very recently.” He further explains that “together with other skeletal parts, the foot evidence indicates that either island dwarfing produced the hobbits from Asian Homo erectus, or that there was an earlier ‘Out of Africa’ migration of an ancient ancestor that resembled australopithecines in many respects.

Drs. Jungers, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Chair of the Department of Anatomical Sciences, and Larson, Professor of Anatomical Sciences, continue their research on the hobbit. Their anatomical findings on the foot, wrist, and shoulder of the Hobbit have appeared in scientific journals such as Science and the Journal of Human Evolution. Most recently, they have undertaken descriptions of all the postcranial material known for H. floresiensis, which are now available online in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Discover is one of the world’s leading popular science magazines. The content of the magazine includes topics in health and medicine, technology, the living world, and human origins. The citation of the Hobbit as a top science story of 2008 is online at

The Department of Anatomical Sciences is one of 25 departments within the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. The department includes graduate and doctoral programs in Anatomical Sciences. Fields of study include research on human evolutionary anatomy, morphology and vertebrate paleontology. Many faculty members in the department are also participants in an interdepartmental graduate program in anthropological sciences that is recognized worldwide for its faculty and research strengths in functional morphology and human evolution.


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