A small display of a dwarf hippo skull and hobbit skull copy, opens at the Natural History Museum today.
The hippo and hobbit were in the news early this month because Museum scientists made a breakthrough when studying what made the brains of some island animals so small.
Museum scientists examined skulls of extinct Madagascan hippos and discovered that dwarfed mammals on islands evolved much smaller brains in relation to their body size.
So, this could explain why the hobbit, the 1-metre-tall extinct human that lived 18,000 years ago, had such a tiny brain.
The phenomenon of dwarfism on islands is well recognised in large mammals. However, an accompanying reduction in brain size, as Museum’s fossil experts, Dr Weston and Professor Adrian Lister found, had never been clearly demonstrated before.
The dwarf hippo skull on display is the one used in the research and is a 3,000-year-old specimen from the Museum’s collections. The extinct, Hippopotamus madagascariensis. is about one third the size of its full-size ancestor, the common hippopotamus.
The hobbit is the nickname for Homo floresiensis, whose remains were uncovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. The Homo floresiensis copy on display is made of a plastic resin and was made from a method using X-ray scans of the original skull.
The Islands make your brain small special display is in Dinosaur Way off the Museum’s Central Hall and is open until August 2009.