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FSU anthropologist leads incredible journey through 'hobbit' brain

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Florida State University professor and chair of anthropology Dean Falk led an international team of scientists on an incredible virtual journey through the tiny brain of an 18,000 year-old hobbit-sized human. What they found has upended conventional evolutionary wisdom on the relationship of brain size to intelligence.

Findings from "The Brain of LB1, Homo Floresiensis" appear in the March 3 edition of Science Express, the online version of the journal Science, and will be featured in a March 13 special edition of Explorer on the National Geographic Channel at 8 p.m. EST/PST.

"The discovery of this species has flummoxed the field of anthropology," said Falk. "I believe it equals or surpasses the identification of other ancestors such as the Taung hominin in 1925, which marked the birth of modern paleoanthropology and sparked an ongoing debate on human evolution."

Last October, skeletal remains of a bipedal adult female barely 36 inches tall were unearthed by Australian and Indonesian researchers on the Indonesian island of Flores. The new dwarf human species was catalogued as LB1, Homo floresiensis, and nicknamed "hobbit."

With a brain one-third the size of a contemporary human's, LB1 had a blend of Homo erectus traits -- like a sloping forehead -- and more familiar Homo sapiens characteristics. It co-existed during the 25,000 millennia that Homo sapiens was presumed, until recently, to be Earth's sole human inhabitant. Given the hobbit's small brain, Falk, a paleoneurologist, was intrigued by the sophisticated tools and evidence of fire that archaeologists uncovered near the remains.

With funding from the National Geographic Society, Falk and a team at Washington University Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology in St. Louis used a process to reproduce the hobbit's external brain features, creating an endocast -- a three-dimensional mod
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3-Mar-2005


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