Sunday, April 03, 2005

Homo floresiensis:On Second Thought

Originally, I had planned on doing three posts today. The first was going to be a book review on Wells' "Icons of Evolution". The second was going to be on Dembski's latest (Searching Large Spaces: Displacement and the No Free Lunch Regress). The third was going to be a follow up on discussions taking place over on Pharyngula.
However, the recent news concerning Homo floresiensis has made me change this.
According to USA Today several parts of the fossils were damaged:

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The left outer eye (about were number 4 is only on the other side) socket and two teeth were broken off and glued back. Bits of molded rubber still adhere to some sections.

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Much of the detail at the base of the skull was pulled off.

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Long, deep cuts mark the lower edge of the hobbit's jaw on both sides, left by a blade used to cut away molded rubber.
The chin of a second hobbit jaw was snapped off, losing bone. It was glued back together misaligned and at an incorrect angle.

The chin, or mental eminence, is a shared, derived feature in Homo. Australopithicines don't have it.

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The pelvis was smashed, perhaps in transit, destroying details that reveal body shape, gait and evolutionary history In other words, the shape and orientation of the ilium (a in the picture) and acetabulum (not pictured).

Here is what the innominate looks like now.

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A good osteologist should be able to put most of this back together

Paleoanthropology has a history of some political shenanigans. Donald Johanson mentions some in "Lucy:The Begginings of Humankind". There was also some nastiness with "Orrorin tugenesis". However, it has never resulted in fossils being damaged before. It sounds like the Homo floresiensis fossils were damages during two processes. 1) Attempting to make a cast of the skull so it could continue to be studied after the fossils were sent back. 2) Removing a sample for DNA analysis. We could also add 3) Inexperience with wet, fragile, fossils. Several groups in recent years have established partnerships with host countries (the group at Hadar in Ethiopia springs to mind) to create research institutions and train paleoanthropologists in the host country. Consequently, there are now quite a few Ethiopian and Kenyan paleoanthropologists. This is clearly different, however, what is really going on, it seems to me, is that Teuku Jacob was trying to preempt the discoverers analysis and gain some unwarrented credit.