What is the difference between Homo floresiensis and African Pygmies?

08 May 2011

Question

Hello Chris.

What is the difference between the Hobbits (Homo floresiensis) and African Pygmies?

Thanks, Glen.

Answer

Diana - First of all, yes we do think that Homo floresiensis is a different species - or at least most people do now. Pygmies in general are thought to be Homo sapiens, although the term pygmy is quite old now so it's better to use the local names like Mbenga and Mbuti and Baka and that kind of thing. But basically, floresiensis would live on the island of Flores about 100,000 years ago to about 12 -13,000 years ago. Some people have argued that it's a micro-cephalic human, which means that it had a really small head. The brain case was about Ã?,¼ of the size of modern humans today. While, of course, normal pigmy people have perfectly normal sized brains. The other thing is that pigmy is actually a term that was developed earlier this century to describe people who were slightly shorter than usual. I think African pigmies were 4 Ã?,½ feet, whereas floresiensis was around 3 Ã?,½ feet tall.

The African pygmies I have read about mostly lived in the forests, and as a result it's been found that they had slightly different ways of metabolising iodine, because it was a very iodine deficient environment. And that could actually have led to them being shorter. The other thing is that [African pygmies] are actually genetically quite divergent from the rest of us. It's thought that they diverged 60,000 years ago which is quite a long time ago.

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