originally posted – August 28, 2006
In October of 2004 National Geographic Magazine reported a remarkable new human species had been discovered by Australian scientists Mike Morwood and Peter Brown in a cave on Flores, a remote Indonesian island. At the finding of a single skull and other skeletal fossils, the new species ws named Homo floresienses after the island of discovery. This was described as “one of the most spectacular discoveries in paleoanthropology in half a century”. Researchers were amazed to discover that there was another upright, bipedal creature walking the planet at the same time as modern humans. The 2004 theory asserted that these Hobbits traveled to the island about 840,000 years ago and later evolved into the new species and that there was no human migration to the island until they died out about 18,000 years ago. It was explained that their miniature size was an adaptive evolutionary response to being stranded on a small island with limited resources.
This “new” human species was a wee little one that grew no larger than the average modern 3 year old child and had a skull the size of a grapefruit and described as the smallest “species” ever discovered. It wasn’t long before dig workers dubbed it’s new nickname, “Hobbit”, after the pint size Lord of the Rings characters. Several skeletons were discovered, but the original skeleton was a female who stood about 3.3 feet tall and weighed about 55 pounds. She was about 30 years old when she died, supposedly about 18,000 years ago. I guess the scientists didn’t realize that it is not polite to discuss a woman’s age, no less her weight, or the size of her brain! It’s just not politically or socially correct.
Despite their tiny brains, the Homo floresienses aka Hobbits, were believed to have outstanding intellectually ability evidenced by their craftsmanship. Many tools have been found that are believed to have been used by the Hobbits in daily life. These creatures had lived and hunted among the pygmy elephants, Komodo dragons, and giant rodents and lizards that are still alive on the island today. Paleoanthropologist Peter Brown, of the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia, stated that the size of their brains “presents an intriguing problem in evolutionary biology.” Brain size and complexity of technology have long been linked together. Presumably, the larger the brain the more advanced the intellectual abilites, and thus evolutionary superiority.
Suprisingly, or not, according to new studies this theory has been disputed, as published in an article by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The bones in question do not belong to a separate species after all, but are consistent with a modern population of pygmies living on the island today. Only about a half a mile away from the location of the excavated the fossils, Indonesian researchers found a thriving community of pygmies. These moderm pygmies are taller, about 4 and a half to 5 feet tall. Further analysis of the skeletons has determined that the difference in size can be attributed to a genetic disorder called microencephaly, where the head and brain are abnormally small. One of the similarites between these people and their ancestors is the absense of chins, a trait seen commonly in recently deceased pygmies as well as the Hobbit fossils. New species? Take that on the chin.
Isolation was assumed to be a major contributor for the evolution of this being. Scientist have now discerned that the Hobbits were not likely to have been isolated to the island at all. There is evidence for at least two migrations of Pygmy elephants on the island during periods of low sea levels. Further, Flores is only seperated from other islands by short distances making the habitants accessible by and to other communities.
There is also a discrepancy regarding the dating of the stone implements that were found alongside the remains. Similar tools found at a nearby site date the tools to about 800,000 years ago were far to old to have been made by modern humans. According to the human evolutionary timeline, the earliest evidence for modern humans is 195,000 years ago in Ethiopia. However, it is common to find dating anomolies among fossils.
Typically, illustrations were drawn by researchers of the Homo floresienses depicting her as subhuman, partially primate-like with typical hairy features. Ironically, in the name of science, the artist has taken great license with his imagination based on a few bones. Now that we know the similarities of these peoples, perhaps the little lady of Flores looked akin to her modern daughters.
Rather than looking to the past and coming up with perposterous theories about imaginary species, perhaps we should look at the issues threatening the survival of these peoples today. Pygmies are not Hobbits, nor are they subhuman, but it is no small wonder that these indigineous peoples have survived given the idiosities of our small human minds.
Answers in Genesis Article – Not to be redundant, my article was posted prior to this (at least I was on the right track!) – this has some additional information that’s worth the read.
What About the Pigmies? – Romans 1:20