Tiny teeth tell of hobbit evolution, according to a report in New Scientist 6 March 2013.

The Hobbit, is the nickname given to an extinct species named Homo floresiensis that is claimed to be a dwarf human by some anthropologists. However, its teeth and brain size are disproportionally small for a typical human dwarf. So Stephen Montgomery of University of Cambridge asks; “If H. floresiensis is a dwarf, one of the controversies has been whether it fits with previous patterns of dwarfism”.

Montgomery and Cambridge colleague Nicholas Mundy have studied marmosets in order to understand how dwarf species form. The pygmy marmoset (Callithrix pygmaea) has been considered a dwarf form and also has unusually small teeth. What’s the link with teeth size? The New Scientist article explains: “The evolution of a dwarf species usually involves shortening the length of pregnancy or infancy, but recently it has been suggested that there might be a more unusual route: pregnancy length stays the same but the growth of the foetus slows down. This might influence brain and tooth size as these develop early.

Montgomery and Mundy found that the pygmy marmoset’s pregnancy and infancy are similar in length to their evolutionarily close, larger relations. This suggests they took the unconventional route to small stature”.

There is some dispute over the relevance of this study to the Hobbit. The New Scientist article goes on to say: “Robert Eckhardt at Pennsylvania State University is not convinced. He is adamant that the hobbit is simply a diseased member of our species. But Dean Falk at the Florida State University in Tallahassee thinks the analysis makes a strong case that primates can undergo unusual dwarfism”.

New Scientist

Editorial Comment: Over the years, since the H. floresiensis bones were first found, we have watched the “dwarf human” vs “diseased human” controversy go back and forth, and get nowhere because the one thing those on both sides of the argument will not allow is that the Hobbit bones are not human. Evolutionary anthropologists really are getting desperate to explain the Hobbit as another species of human, but as more studies of the bones are carried out, the more the evidence shows that these bones belonged to an ape-like creature, similar to an Australopithecine. However, that does not fit into the evolutionary story of apes turning into people in Africa millions of years ago, so it is usually dismissed, and evolutionary anthropologists have to resort to tenuous evidence like the study above.

Since human dwarves are still being produced by human parents, we can study their tooth and brain size and dismiss most of the claims in the study – except for one – dwarfism in man is the result of degeneracy from the norm, i.e. devolution not evolution. And the same applies to dwarfism in all present day creatures, runts in pig litters, dog breeding miniatures, and newly produced dwarf plant forms. One related point of interest we find in the fossil record is the trail of decreasing size in many plants and animals down to the present.

Evidence News 27 March 2013