Bones, Stones, and Human Evolution
More than half of the bones in the human body are in our hands and feet. Each hand has 27 bones and each foot has 26—a trait we share with African apes. In the late 1800s, anatomist Thomas Henry Huxley used these facts and others like them to infer that humans were more closely related to African apes than to any other primate species. It took more than 100 years before genetic evidence confirmed Huxley's highly controversial—but astute— inference. Now, research is showing that there were once many species of humans (called hominins) that went extinct but are more closely related to modern humans than any living or fossil ape.
As Canada Research Chair in Human Origins, Dr. Matt Tocheri wants to uncover important clues about the relationships among these extinct species of hominins. His analysis of the wrist bones from Homo floresienis—the so-called “hobbits” of human evolution—is widely considered one of the strongest pieces of evidence yet discovered that these extinct humans were a species distinct from our own.
Through continuing excavations on the Indonesian island of Flores, Tocheri is investigating the timing and nature of the extinction of Homo floresiensis, the first modern humans on Flores, and their transition from a hunting-gathering society to a farming one. By providing a greater understanding of past human diversity, both biologically and culturally, this research may help us make informed decisions about the future of our species and the world we inhabit.