The Debate Continues: Another Skull Study Supports the "Hobbit"

By Eliza Strickland | January 26, 2009 10:50 am

hobbit skull Anthropologists have conducted a new analysis of skulls from the so-called “hobbit” fossils found in an Indonesian cave in 2003, and say their results add more evidence that the fossils come from a hitherto unknown race of tiny people. The researchers compared the hobbit skulls to those of modern humans and apes, as well as the fossil brain cases of early human ancestors. “The shape of the skull is consistent with what we would expect for a small archaic Homo,” said Karen Baab [National Geographic News], lead author of the new study.

When paleontologists unearthed a cluster of strange, hominid skeletons on the island of Flores, they had little idea that they were about to start a fierce debate that would divide the field of anthropology. But soon the researchers declared that the 18,000-year-old fossils came from people who were only three feet tall, and who were actually a different species of hominid, which researchers called Homo floresiensis. “These hobbits – hominids – appear to have survived when modern humans were all over the Earth at this time,” Baab said [The Guardian]. Since then, debate has raged over whether the hobbits were indeed an unknown species, or whether the individuals found in the cave were just modern humans with a disease that stunted their growth and gave them small brains, a condition called microcephaly.

In the new study, which will be published in the Journal of Human Evolution [subscription required], the researchers used X-rays and 3-D modeling techniques to examine the hobbit skulls. The new research focuses on the asymmetry—or unevenness—between the left and right sides of the hobbit’s skull. A paper published in 2006 concluded the skull is highly asymmetrical, consistent with abnormal development—a condition that would invalidate use of the skull to represent a new species. The new study also finds the skull asymmetrical, but within the range of healthy human ancestors. What unevenness exists, Baab said, can at least partially be explained by the process of fossilization [National Geographic News].

However, the new analysis hasn’t convinced the skeptics, who still believe that the hobbit contingent has gotten carried away by a romantic idea. Evolutionary biologist Robert Eckhardt, who has also studied the fossils, says the tiny skull probably means the person was sick and was microcephalic for a medical reason. “We are working very hard to find out what it was,” Eckhardt said. “When you search the developmental genetic literature there are about 400 conditions that have microcephaly as a symptom,” he said, “so we are tracking down which one it is, and it won’t be easy” [The Guardian].

Related Content:
The Loom: Return to Hobbit Limbo
The Loom: Hobbits Alive?
The Loom: The Hobbit’s Brain

Image: flickr / ideonexus

  • Bruce Voigt

    The Human
    We as humans ponder our existence and are from time to time, swayed by evidence and discoveries. Mans interpretation of these is, in most part, foggy and he will scratch, bite and kill to protect his egotistic interpretations.

    Only a couple of hundred years have passed since a person would have been burnt at the stake had he talked about Dinosaurs or, in more recent times, ostracised for thinking man could fly to the moon.
    In recent times of discovery man is tripping all over himself trying to contain this new knowledge within his box. A time has come when communication (computer) has blown the lid off. I feel for the well-meaning, good people that have been duped by so-called education.

    We, as humans, are a product of All Life Produces Life and are of bits and pieces (info cells) of other times and places. The Voigt Papers explain the existence of man and his regession to cave man in Earth’s last one hundred a fifty million year cycle and how we are well on our way to becoming Earth’s next cave men. Oh, the missing link — look for a tiny human skeleton.

    PS– Keep looking there are much smaller than the hobbit and i’ll bet you a dollar to a dough-nut it’s already been found and is being suppressed.

  • Adam

    Incoherent blathering isn’t a replacement for a scientific analysis, Bruce, and appealling to “suppressed evidence” is a sure sign you’re desparate.

    The Hobbit has upset the nice linear picture we once had of human evolution. Now we’ll just have to get used to grades of human-ness linking us to the apes in surprising ways and the unsettling thought that near-human cleverness can be packed into a smaller skull. Could we have to abandon the old picture of other apes as just knuckle-dragging morons? I think we will.

  • JW

    Aren’t there also stories of extremely elongated skulls in various parts of the world, some that may not have been human-manipulated? For instance, Malta and South America?

  • Bruce Voigt

    Question to Evolution and Creationism — “What came first” — the egg or The Raptor Dinosaurs.
    Because your not versed in Modern Science you will both get it wrong so I will answer for you.

    The answer is “NEITHER”! All life produces life and after this life is produced, its environment will determine whether or not this life form will continue as a reproducing species. Just in case that went zinging right over your heads there is a difference between life and species.

  • jj mollo

    Bruce, Some life does not produce life (except possibly during the decomposition process). That’s the essence of natural selection — failure to replicate on the part of the deviate. You should consider doing something about your tendency to overgeneralize. It might be caused by a clinical condition, in which case it might be treatable.

  • Bruce Voigt


    As an experiment, after a brisk walk on a cool morning remove your clothing and jump into bed. It doesn’t take long before warm air is wafting from the covers. Feel your skin it will be cold.

    An atomic reaction is taking place within your body changing water to what it was made from H2O (gas). This heated excreting gas is made up of miniature nuclei containing a nucleus that has all the information of its parent. Contained in that water cell that changed to gas is the complete (including Memory) make up of you.

    This aura (or con zillions of you) are now on an adventure of Evolution. Some of these will mutate on the body and can be detected by smell. If a bathing doesn’t take place a good magnification will show things with legs (bed mites)and they will probably be Earths next dinosaur. Others of you are been dispersed where ever you are or go (its this Aura that a tracking dog homes in on).

    Like Crop Circles an accumulation or Aura in a packed state can manifest into ghost. Most of these particles amalgamate with the Earths centrifugal force and are taken aloft to become the nucleus of a water cell (rain drop).

    The moment you die a measurable 3/4 troy ounce of your make up including memory is recycled by the brain (reverse evolution were the orbiting nuclei of the nucleus is sped up in which each cell or particle is smaller than the last).

    This 3/4 ounce of energy does not stay on Earth but is whisked out into space (dark mater) to be used some where, some time, some how by something. It comforts me to know that their will always be a part of me tucked away some where out there.

  • Heaposan

    Bruce, surely you’re just taking the piss now …

  • Sandy

    Have the paleoanthropologists considered the possibility that the “Hobbit” is a Primordial Dwarf? There are over 100 Primordial Dwarfs in the United States, and although they have the dimensions (including cranial capacity) of the “Hobbit” they have average human intelligence.

    Just wondering…

  • Petr Jandacek

    The ongoing problem with floresiensis is that virtually everyone wants to put her in the Genus HOMO.
    From heat to toe (Cranium,dentition,shoulder,long arms/short legs,wrist structure,big feet, toe proportions,stature etc the Hobbit-Hominins belong to the Genus AUSTRALOPITHECUS NOT HOMO
    Someone who is in the Genus Homo with the above mentioned features would in fact be a pathological sample. We must get into the hobbit of calling them LATTER DAY AUSTRALOPITHECUS FLORESIENSIS. For more info Google petr jandacek.
    Upon request I will send you hard copies such
    Petr Jandacek 127 La Senda Rd. LOS ALAMOS NM USA 87544

  • Erik John Bertel

    Well, if you haven’t heard by now Homo floresiensis is now a must see fossil exhibit (casting) at SUNY Stony Brook, my alma mater by the way, this April 21st. All fans of the hobbit are not going to want to miss this one if they live in the tri-state area. This is perhaps the find of the century and the inspiration for my Flores Girl: The Children God Forgot novel.

  • Therese

    Ardipithecus ramidus had similar big feet and long arms and hands to LB1.

  • http://Googlepetrjandacekforseveral Petr Jandacek

    Upright small brained “apes” such as Ardipithecus and various types of Dryopithecinae inhabited much of Eurasia and Africa. Australopithecus floresiensis survived until very recently. Additionally, Hylobatidae (Siamangs and Gibbons) as well as Orangutans of Asia walk upright (on branches or on ground) much more than do Gorillas, Chimpanzees or Bonobos. Why is there a tacit presumption that only a single (African) Australopithecus was the foundation stock of Hominins. Domesticated dogs have incorporated genes from wild cape dogs of South Africa, Dingos (imported) as Austraian feral canines, Alaskan wolves and every imaginable jackal in between. The “Sidestep” knuckle romp of our closest relatives is NOT likely to be our ancestors’ fasted pace. Hominims of today can interbreed with all other recent hominins. (like with the dogs) It is likely that humans are a product of eclectic transcontinental breedings.
    For more info write to Petr Jandacek
    127 la Senda Rd. LOS ALAMOS NM USA 87544

  • Robert

    Making the statement that all recent hominins can interbreed is strictly conjecture. There is strong evidence supporting admixture between Neandertals and moderns, but outside of that it is a baseless claim. Floresiensis is in genus Homo based mainly on strong bipedality, the ability to control fire, stone tool technology, and brain size in comparison to stature. Considering the phenomenon of insular dwarfism, which often occurs in island populations and can be observed in other species on Flores, brain to stature ratio makes LB1 look like a small Homo erectus. It is most probable that erectus and floresiensis shared a recent ancestor considering the primitive wrist structure of LB1, which makes insular dwarfism rather unlikely, but the model is useful. Until better evidence is dug up, LB1 is most certainly a valid member of Homo.

  • Robert

    Sandy, although you may never see this, there are many who hold the primordial dwarf as well as microcephaly theories. The problem with those ideas is that there were 12 other individuals found at the same site with very similar morphology making pathology highly unlikely.

  • JOHN







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