Pick Of The Week: Hobbit Bones A new cast of a skeleton of Homo floresiensis — a fossil known as the "hobbit" — was unveiled a few weeks ago at Stony Brook University. Anthropologist Bill Jungers describes the hominid, which lived 17,000 years ago and was just over three feet tall.
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Pick Of The Week: Hobbit Bones

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Pick Of The Week: Hobbit Bones

IRA FLATOW, host:

Once again, Flora Lichtman is here for our Science Video Pick of the Week. What do we got today?

FLORA LICHTMAN: This week, we have a look - a first look actually - at the bones or replicas of the bones of the hobbit. You might have heard of this fossil. It comes from Indonesia.

FLATOW: Ah, yes.

LICHTMAN: And it's tiny. And the question really is, you know, where does this hominid come from? And scientists are looking at the bones - these fossil bones - for clues.

FLATOW: Homo floren -

LICHTMAN: Florensiensis.

FLATOW: Thank you.

LICHTMAN: You're welcome.

FLATOW: Nice (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: In the islands of?

LICHTMAN: Flores.

FLATOW: And where these were found?

LICHTMAN: And it's a totally remote place, so there are lots of questions - like how did these guys got there, you know, what did they evolved from? And the bones had actually never been on display outside of Indonesia. And Stony Brook University managed to make replicas of the most complete Flores skeleton. And so we have a first look with anthropologist Bill Jungers.

FLATOW: And he takes - he actually displayed the bones for you, right?

LICHTMAN: Yes. So he displays the bones and he picks out the, sort of, key bones that show that this doesn't look like a human.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: So that's his theory, that this is not - you know, this is something different, that we've never seen before.

FLATOW: And that - and this is now without controversy as we say, right?

LICHTMAN: No. It's the hot topic in the anthropological world. I mean the question is, you know, there are sort of two camps, two major camps, and one is, you know, are these deceased pigmies - humans?

FLATOW: Right. Right.

LICHTMAN: Or is this something, you know, we've never seen before, a different species in our own genus.

FLATOW: Going back thousands of years.

LICHTMAN: Mm-hmm.

FLATOW: And he showed you - took you on a tour on the Video Pick of the Week. You'll see him giving us a little tour of the bones. And he shows, I think the most interesting part, was that skull comparison that he showed.

LICHTMAN: It's really quite different. I mean, I think it was useful to see it because you can kind of imagine, okay, a three-foot hominid, but when you see the size difference in the skull, you can, you know, it really is noticeable.

FLATOW: And then one thing that's pointed out in this issue of Nature, this week, is the size of the foot that's different, right?

LICHTMAN: Right. So this is sort of the funniest part about it. These are tiny, you know, tiny hominids that they have these unusually large feet. And this ends up being sort of a key piece of evidence for people who believe that it's a new species, because it doesn't - the proportions of the leg is different than you would see in humans.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: Quite different.

FLATOW: An explanation of how the big skull got to be a little skull, that's also…

LICHTMAN: That's - yes. That's a hotly debated question, too, because it requires sort of skull brain shrinking to go from, you know, our ancestors to this. But you can learn more about it at our Web site.

FLATOW: At sciencefriday.com. It's the Video Pick of the Week. If you'd like to see a tour of these bones, and the first time they really - a good model of them, right - has been on display.

LICHTMAN: Right.

FLATOW: And Flora - we've got a great tour with Flora and the doctor, so… Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks.

FLATOW: It's a suitably available at sciencefriday.com in our Video Pick of the Week section.

That's about all the time we have for today.

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