Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsWell, my name is Dr. Matthew Tocheri. I'm Canada Research Chair in Human Origins at Lakehead University and Research Associate in the Human Origins program at the Smithsonian Institution. My specialty is paleoanthropology. So I study human origins and human evolution. The last few decades have been sort of a blossoming of paleoanthropological research, lots of new findings from the human fossil record, lots of new findings from genetics, lots of new findings from a whole array of research that come together to provide new information about human origins. Several decades ago, each fossil was put into its place in one single lineage leading from early man through to, say, Neanderthal man through us.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 secondsHowever, as more and more people have found fossils throughout the Old World from Africa all the way through Europe and Asia, we now realize our evolutionary story is a lot more like the evolutionary story of other animals, that it wasn't just a simple linear evolution of features leading to us, that, in fact, our family tree is much more bushy. And there were lots of cousins, essentially, that unfortunately have gone extinct. And we're the only ones left of this otherwise quite diverse group. Our species, modern humans, Homo sapiens, first evolved in Africa roughly about 200,000 years ago. And we know that from the earliest fossil evidence of our species, as well as modern human genetics.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 secondsSo all the DNA in our bodies today lead back to a common ancestral population that was living about 200,000 years ago. Now, Neanderthals, are essentially the descendants of earlier hominins that left Africa probably about 500,000 years ago. You can look at it as the common ancestor that we share with Neanderthals. Part of that group left Africa around that time, and then basically got isolated from the population still living in Africa. And roughly about 200,000 years ago, our species evolves from the populations that stayed in Africa. And Neanderthals evolved from those that had stayed in Eurasia. Well, we know that we shared the planet with Neanderthals. But Neanderthals are also very much like us. They have very large brains. They're larger-bodied.

Skip to 2 minutes and 33 secondsThey're body proportions are the same as us. And they also used very sophisticated tools. And they lived in cold climates, used fire in controlled ways. And so sharing the planet with something like that, which is otherwise very recognizably human, is easy for us to picture. But Homo floresiensis, when it was discovered, it also overlapped in time with our species as well as Neanderthals, but was isolated often in the Indonesian island of Flores. Now, it's very surprising because it doesn't look like a Neanderthal. It doesn't look like us. It looks more like hominin species that we find in the fossil record roughly one to three million years ago in Africa.

Skip to 3 minutes and 19 secondsAnd yet, it's extremely far away and found in sediments that overlap with our species. So to see that we shared this planet, not only with Neanderthals, but as well with another, more distantly related cousin is really quite remarkable.

Where did we come from?

Our evolutionary story is not linear, as was once thought to be the case. Rather, like other animals, the human family tree is much more like a bush made up of a variety of extinct cousins.

Palaeoanthropology has blossomed in the last few decades, with recent findings from fossils, genetics and other scientific research providing new insights about human origins and evolution. Genetic evidence tells us that all the DNA in our bodies today leads back to a common ancestral population of modern humans (Homo sapiens) - our species - which first emerged in Africa about 200, 000 years ago.

We know that we shared the planet and a common ancestor with Neanderthals (who had recognisably human features), but it has been a recent discovery that we shared the Earth with another, more distantly related (and morphologically distinct) cousin … Homo floresiensis.

“It’s very surprising because it doesn’t look like a Neanderthal. It doesn’t look like us. It looks more like hominin species that we find in the fossil record roughly one to three million years ago in Africa. And yet, it’s extremely far away and found in sediments that overlap with our species…” (Dr Matt Tocheri, Palaeoanthropologist)

  • How does the discovery of the Hobbit help us to understand the human family tree as bushy instead of linear?

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Homo Floresiensis Uncovered: The Science of ‘the Hobbit’

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