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Homo Floresiensis ('Hobbits'; Small Archaic Humans)

Indonesian 'hobbit' legends may be factual

December 26 2004 at 11:00AM

By Chris Brummitt

Mount Ebulo, Indonesia - Nellis Kua is too old to remember his exact age, but his eyes light up when he talks of the gang of hobbit-like creatures his grandparents told him once lived in the forest on the slopes of this still smoking Indonesian volcano.

"They had these big eyes, hair all over their body and spoke in a strange language," said Kua, his skin leathered by a lifetime tending coffee and chilli pepper crops under the harsh tropical sun.

"They stole our crops, our fruit and moonshine. They were so greedy they even ate the plates!"

Kua and other elders said the creatures, known locally as the "Ebu Gogo" or the "Grandmother who eats everything", were last seen on the central Indonesian island of Flores around 300 years ago.

The story had previously been dismissed as a legend - along with other tales of "little people" living in isolated rainforests that are common elsewhere in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

But a stunning archaeological find deep in a limestone cave on Flores has meant sceptics are having to take the tales more seriously.

An Indonesian-Australian scientific team announced recently they had found a skull and bones belonging to a new human dwarf species they said lived on the island until 12 000 years ago.

Homo florensius stood just one-metre-tall, used hand tools and had a brain smaller than a chimpanzee's. The find raised questions as to whether Homo Sapiens were the sole human inhabitants of the earth for tens of thousands of years as had been previously assumed, and whether the two groups ever met.

The discovery was feted around the world, but in recent weeks, several experts have questioned the team's findings, among them Indonesia's most prominent paleontologist, Professor Teuku Jacob.

Jacob, who is currently studying the fossils, says he believed the skull belonged to a human being suffering from a rare brain-shrinking disorder.

"This is all a little hasty," Jacob said. "From what I have seen, this not a new species, or even subspecies. It is just one individual with microcephaly."

Members of the Indonesian-Australian team are standing by their initial findings, which captured the public imagination amid comparisons to the fictional hobbits of JRR Tolkien's stories, including The Lord Of The Rings.

Using the tale of the "Ebu Gogo" to bolster their case, some team members have speculated that homo florensius may have lived on Flores until much later than 12 000 years ago, possibly as recently as a couple of hundred years ago.

Australian research team member Dr Richard Roberts said it was "not out of the question" that some of the creatures could still be living in some remote corner of the heavily-forested island.

"Until 2003, nobody knew this creature existed," said Roberts. "Now we know it did, it opens up all these possibilities that were closed to people's minds. The exciting part now will be to find some of these lost creatures."

The team is planning to return to the island next year to scour a series of limestone caves close to Kua's village to look for more recent evidence of homo florensius.

The scientific discovery has led a stream of adventurous tourists to visit the cave at Liang Bua village, where the fossils were unearthed. The island last made international headlines in 1992 when it was hit by an earthquake that killed 3 000 people. So far, access to the scientific dig site is unrestricted.

The cave, which is around 120km east of Kua's village, extends 40m into an escarpment and is as tall as a two-storey house. It lies at the end of a long, bumpy road that winds through coffee plantations and tin-roofed villages.

"I'm a sucker for this stuff," said Daniel Ruff, a 78-year-old tourist from Hayward, California, who made the trip recently. "For me, when I saw that cave it was mission accomplished."

The tourist office in Ruteng, the town nearest the cave, says the region plans to display the fossils, or copies of them, in a museum, but only after it finds the funds to build one.

The story of the Ebu Gogo has been known to anthropologists for years. It is rich in detail and has few mythical elements - factors that indicate is has a basis in fact, experts say.

"When I first heard these stories I was a bit sceptical," said Gert D van den Bergh, a Dutch researcher. "But the difference with the Ebu Gogo is that the local villagers talk about them as if they were an actual part of the fauna and that they have no supernatural powers."

Another distinguishing element to the story is that it ends with the villagers killing most or all of the Ebu Gogo. In other tales of "little people", the creatures are normally said to still be alive.

According to local stories it was villagers, not some natural disaster, that provided the catastrophic event that led to the Ebu Gogo's extinction.

Kua and other village elders said their ancestors - sick of the Ebu Gogo's constant scavenging - chased the creatures into a cave high on the volcano, then handed them bales of straw, which the creatures thought was a gift to keep them warm.

But the villagers concealed hot coals in the final bale of straw, which caught fire inside the cave, killing all the creatures except one male and one female, Kua said.

The couple, which escaped from the rear of the cave, were last seen heading west - the direction of the cave at Liang Bua where the bones were found.

Niles Calder said:
Jeremy3 said:
Both beliefs start with presuppositions and interpret the evidence to fit their models.

Can you give an example of this please. I know its rife in many topics but most evolutionists I know of start with Darwin's The Origin of Species and work on from there.

Well, Darwin started with the presupposition that an intelligent designer doesn't exist. So do most people that follow his beliefs. They then interpret the evidence to fit their models. In the same way, the creationists and ID folks start with the presupposition that an intelligent designer does exist, and interpret the evidence to fit their models. They're all looking at the same evidence; they just interpret it differently.

We saw a clear example of this when the Flores bones were found. People immediately started explaining how this discovery could fit in the common evolutionary model as well as a creation model, though it's not a discovery that seems to specifically support one model over another. People started with presuppositions, and interpreted the evidence accordingly.

Even assuming that Darwin was correct is a presupposition that one starts with. So, when you think about it, you actually answered your own question in a way. :)

BlackRiverFalls said:
I had a grudging respect for their certainty and the fact that they were so staunchly anti-evolution now they are grasping at some kind of pseudo-evolution that they can accept.

Isn't that the essence of Intelligent Design? I was under the impression that was rehashed creationism which doesn't deny that what amounts to evolutionary change exists, but tries to claim that the change is a guided process rather than random mutation and natural selection.

My understanding is that people that believe in intelligent design claim that there exists an evolutionary process that is guided by a designer. This kind of evolutionary process can be creative, destructive, and repetitive. The "six-day" creationists seem to say that the evolutionary processes we see aren't creative, but can only be destructive or repetitive. The difference seems to be that the latter belief claims that there was only one point at which things were created, and that the universe has been "decaying" ever since. The law of causality or the second law of thermodynamics may give support for that kind of reasoning.
I knew he wouldn't hand them back when he said he would - OK he claims the tsunami interfered but if they were going back at the end of the year they should really have been winging their way back by then anyway:

Research to go on without 'hobbit'

Leigh Dayton, Science writer
January 08, 2005

ALTHOUGH their famous fossils were not returned as promised by the prominent Indonesian researcher who snatched them last year, the Australian scientists who helped discover the 18,000-year-old "hobbit" will return to Indonesia this month to pursue their work.

"The research will continue," said Mike Morwood, an archaeologist with the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, who led the Australian arm of the team that made the discovery.

The scientists will carry on despite the fact that 79-year-old paleoanthropologist Teuku Jacob, of Gadjah Mada University in Jogyakarta, has reneged on a written agreement that he would return all the "borrowed" fossils by the end of 2004.

Yesterday the director of Jakarta's Centre for Archaeology, Tony Djubiantono, confirmed that Professor Jacob had failed to return the fossils to the centre.

He said Professor Jacob claimed he needed more time to study and make casts of the fossils, in part because he was concerned about relatives living in Aceh province, hit by the tsunami.

Regardless, Dr Djubiantono said he was "optimistic" that the man known as Indonesia's "king of paleoanthropology" would return the material.

Professor Jacob had no involvement in the discovery of the creature, named homo floresiensis by the Australian and Indonesian scientists who had excavated the skeletal remains of seven of the diminutive hominids, ranging in age from 13,000 to 18,000 years.

Worse, Professor Jacob took the fossils without authorisation and in contravention of an agreement - signed by the Centre for Archaeology and UNE - that any material found by the international team would be housed at the centre.

Yet in a puzzling twist, Professor Jacob packed off the precious fossils with the assistance of 76-year-old Radien Soejono, co-leader of the discovery team.

Professor Jacob had no comment and referred The Australian to Dr Djubiantono, who was appointed director only eight months ago.

"It's difficult because Jacob is a senior scientist in Indonesia and a very old man," Dr Djubiantono said. "If we regain the fossils, I will keep them in a safe in my office".

Over the next nine months, Professor Morwood and his Australian colleagues will continue their search for early human remains on the islands of Flores - home of the hobbit - Java and Sulawesi.

Incedible. As noted in an earlier post, this guy has a history of hoarding important fossils and not letting anyone see them:

Not only did he remove the hobbits from the archaeology centre, as reported last week in The Australian, he also holds some of Indonesia's most famous ancient human remains.

Among the fossils in his collection are a dozen 200,000-year-old Ngandong skulls and the skull of the 1.81-million-year-old "Mojokerto Child". As well as these ancient Homo erectus fossils, Professor Jacob has stored remains of fully modern humans from Flores, some for nearly 30 years.

He is seen as authoritarian, allowing scientists to view the fossils at his own discretion.

The Australian
Bones of contention


Bones of contention

The discovery of a new species of human astounded the world. But is it what it seems? John Vidal went to remotest Flores to find out

Thursday January 13, 2005
The Guardian

If you want to understand human evolution, it may be worth starting with Johannes Daak from the remote village of Akel in the heavily forested centre of the Indonesian island of Flores. Johannes, from the Manggarai ethnic group, reckons he is 100 years old and says he owes his longevity and enduring strength to having only ever known one woman. He says he owes his stature to his ancestors.

Johannes is no more than 4ft 1in (1m 25cm) tall, give or take an inch. His grandfather and father were also tiny, and so is his son. All of them had "normal" sized mothers, but for some reason, only the males in his family seem to be small.

Next month, two researchers from Indonesia's leading Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, will head to Akel and nearby Rampasasa villages to measure Johannes's family and other "little" people who live there. The size and proportions of their limbs and skulls will then be compared with those of the most celebrated skeleton in the world - Homo floresiensis, aka the Hobbit, the little lady of Flores, ebu, or, in the shorthand of the scientists who found the skeleton in a Flores cave called Lian Bua, LB1.

This 13,000-year-old, 1m tall, 25-year-old hominin with a brain one-third the size of modern man's, was found just a few miles from Johannes's village and was a scientific sensation last October when the team of Australian and Indonesians that unearthed it claimed in the journal Nature that it was an entirely new human species. Dubbing it Homo floresiensis and nicknaming it hobbit, they said it was a descendant of a long-extinct ancestor of modern man (Homo erectus), thought to have flourished between 1.8m and possibly 300,000 years ago. Dubbed one of the breakthroughs of 2004 by US journal Science, it made worldwide news.

Fossils show only about 10 human species and 50 sub-species, so finding a brand new one is a huge story for anthropologists, and Homo floresiensis was greeted as the most breathtaking and important discovery in 150 years, changing our understanding of late human evolutionary geography, biology and culture. It was not only the smallest adult hominid found, but the Australian team even suggested that because it came so late in the human evolutionary scale, a group of Homo floresiensis could be alive today in the forests of Flores.

But every major find has a backlash, and in this case a fierce, high-level challenge has come from academics in several countries. Leading them is Professor Teuka Jacob, who heads the Laboratory of Bioanthropology and Paleoanthropology at Gadjah Mada. The only man outside the excavating team to have inspected the skeleton, Jacob says it is conceivable that Johannes' family are descendants of the Little Lady of Flores.

But even if his researchers find no direct link, he says he is certain from his own preliminary inspection that the bones now locked in a safe in his vault at the university do not belong to a new species within the genus homo, or even a sub-species, but a pygmy version of Homo sapiens - not unlike Johannes.

And he claims that behind the intense media attention last October were ill-equipped, hurried young academics whose work was not properly scrutinised. The world of anthropology is used to disputes, but the fierce nature of this one has split the field.

Lian Bua, the limestone cave where Homo floresiensis was found 5.9m below the floor in October 2003, translates as "cold cave". It is at least 10C cooler than the deep, hidden valley of paddy fields that it overlooks.

It is also easy to see why early man used this cave for so long. It is ideal for hunter-gatherers. Light and dry, with 20m ceilings, easily defensible ledges and secret chambers, a tribe could live under its stalactites

"This is where they found the skeleton," says Riccus Bandar, a farmer from the nearby village of Beotaras who helped the dig and is now the cave's unofficial custodian, guide and gateman. He points out the slightly disturbed ground, a few feet from the cave's left wall. "They also found pygmy elephants, komodo dragons, and tools. It is the most beautiful cave in the world."

Lian Bua has a colourful recent history. At one point a schoolroom for villagers, it was first investigated in the 1950s by Theodoor Verhoevenis, a Dutch missionary and amateur archaeologist. Indonesian archaeologists excavated it again in the 1980s but the work was suspended during the Asian financial crash. Since then it has become a favourite picnic spot for locals.

But it is legendary in Beoteras. "My grandmother told me when I was about six of how, long ago, six children from the village went hunting and one of their dogs went into the cave but did not come out," says Bandar, who is in his 60s. "They went in and saw a little man there. He was very small, standing on a rock. They were frightened and ran back. The people were very afraid."

The story is more or less echoed in other villages, many of whose people say they originate from the island of Kalimantan (formerly Borneo) - where pygmy-sized people live. According to one account, the little people of Flores were also called the Reba Ruek and were very hairy. The Australian scientists say they were told of the Ebu Gogo who reportedly lived on Flores until just a few hundred years ago. But no one in the villages near Lian Bua has heard that name.

Some 1,500km to the west of Flores, on the far more developed island of Java, is Jacob's laboratory. The only one of its kind in south Asia, its ground floor is a chaos of cabinets and shelving, holding 40 years of excavated material. It includes Jacob's large collection of hominids - including his discoveries of Homo erectus, Homo erectus palaeojavanicus and Homo erectus soloensis.

But he is keeping the latest Flores find in a safe in his steel-doored vault. Like all other major finds made by the department of archaeology, the bones were sent to his laboratory. He did not - as the press have said - kidnap them. "They even gave me the money for the transport."

He insists he is not jealously guarding his patch, or upset that Australians found the skeleton. "At my age you look at things quite calmly. I have been working in this field for more than 40 years ... Here [in this laboratory] we have one third of the world's homo erectus finds."

But Professor Richard "Bert" Roberts of the University of Wollongong, Australia, a co-author of the original Nature paper, accuses Jacob of "stifling study" by not releasing the bones. "Jacob has a habit of hanging on to fossils for a long time. He cannot be allowed to keep these, to stifle the study that he so advocates. I urge him to send the fossils back."

Jacob is one of the world's most experienced paleoanthropologists, as well as being a pathologist. After training in Holland and getting his PhD in the US, he worked for 40 years on many of Indonesia's major sites, as well as in Kenya, Australia, Italy, China and South Africa. He has written more than 20 books and is one of Asia's most decorated and well-known academics.

All his experience, he says, tells him that this is not a new species. "When I saw the Australians' research, I refused to comment for the first two weeks. Then the head of the archaeological centre [which co-sponsored the dig] asked me to take the bones and then we got a really good look.

"The skull looked to me like a primate's. It was only when I picked it up that I knew it was Homo sapiens. We did the measurements. A few things might confuse people, like the shape of the skull from the back is pentagonal. Later I saw the pelvis and the thigh bone. It's just human. It's not erectus."

He believes that the small brain volume may be a sign of mental abnormalities, specifically microcephaly, (small brain) which has been observed elsewhere in early man. "I started to get confirmation about the size of the brain. Then I knew they had found [something] similar to a microcephelate. It [the disease] could be genetic or acquired during birth."

He did not find the tiny skull remarkable. "It was what we call microcranic - very small. There was a very small brain and jaw. In this case there were no other abnormalities, only in the skull. The legs, arms and everything else were genetically normal. But this [microcephaly] can happen anywhere. It could be as common as one in 500."

In rapid succession he picks up bits of the bones laid out on his desk. "Look at the teeth, they are clearly modern ... so is the skull. The arm bones, the leg bones ... all are small, but that is all. If you analyse the front of the face, you might think it is an ape. But look at the whole head and it looks much more human, especially from behind."

He inspects the jaw. "The front teeth are very small. It has only one premolar. In [Homo] erectus, they get smaller and then larger. This has the same occlusal pattern as recent Javanese finds."

He believes that the Australians got not only the species wrong but even the gender. "The margin of the eye hole is rounder than for a female," he says. He picks up the thighbone. "Observe the muscular attachments. They are more pronounced than with females. Again, the pelvis is rounded [which suggests a man]."

The row is now splitting anthropologists. Although the Australian and Indonesian scientists stand their ground and are backed by many experts, a group which includes paleo-pathologist Maciej Henneberg of the University of Adelaide and anthropologist Alan Thorne of the Australian National University in Canberra is sceptical of their case. Henneberg argues that the skull of the Flores hominid is very similar to a 4,000-year-old microcephalic Minoan skull found on Crete in 1975.

Jacob says he is now getting support from around the world and hopes to publish a paper setting out his arguments in Science soon.

The Australians' mistake, he says, was not to fully compare their findings with others made in Flores or elsewhere in the region. A find like this, he says, "must be seen from all aspects, in relation to the environment and neighbouring areas. They did their study without comparative material. We are now studying every detail and comparing it with all the other remains from Flores caves and neighbouring islands, like the small individuals found in east Java in the 1950s.

"I have studied the remains from several caves in Flores in the 1960s. There are five similar caves in the area. Catholic priests found some small skeletons in the 1950s. Dutch anthropologists found some in the 1960s."

The Australians say it is too much of a coincidence to have seven possible hominids all with small bones (only one skull has been found) but Jacob says small people are not uncommon in the region.

"There is plenty of other evidence of pygmy peoples in the region. There are pygmies still living in west Papua, the Andeman and Nicobar islands, and in the Philippines. But they are all Homo sapiens. They're just a smaller size. These pygmies were once quite common, but only pockets remain. There was far more diversity of people before."

He says the row has become personal. "I have been called everything. They say it's jealousy, a turf war, but it's not."

He claims the Australian team were "scientific terrorists" forcing ideas on people, that it was unethical for them to have made the announcement without the Indonesians being invited, and that they were not experienced enough. "I don't think the Australians have the expertise. They were very narrow. They have a tunnel vision and were not equipped in this area."

He absolves the Indonesians on the team. "Professor RP Soejono, [the head of the Indonesian archaeology centre which jointly sponsored the dig] was in the list of authors, but he never even saw the drafts [of the Nature article]. The others were young Indonesians. In the present climate it's hard to get a job. You usually follow the hand that feeds you.

"I would say [to the Australians] 'do some more work. Think twice. Look at everything from different angles. Don't start with the conclusion.'"

And he has concerns about the referees of the Nature article. "The reviewers seemed unevenly selected, very one-sided."

It is an argument Roberts categorically rejects. The referees were leading anthropologists. "They [Nature] had six referees on each paper, the most I have ever known. They made damn sure they had a cushion behind their arse. The papers had to be submitted three times. It took six months, so was hardly rushed out. It was fair and rigorous.

"Our team had everyone involved - geomorphologists, geochronologists, archaeologists, paleoanthropolgists ... We left no bone unturned. Good grief, it was a soccer team of authors!"

And he raises the stakes by suggesting that Jacob and other critics have an "intellectual interest" in denying that the skeleton was a new species. "All ... are supporters of the multiregionalism evolutionary model ... This discovery would destroy their theory. It suits their purposes very nicely [to oppose Homo floresiensis]."

The background to the row is a long and bitter debate between those anthropologists who say the modern human evolved in Africa and that all modern Homo sapiens developed there, and those such as Jacob who say that Homo erectus migrated from Africa through the north and spread [and developed] throughout the rest of the world. The argument is far from being resolved on either side.

One of the original advocates of multiregionalism, Professor Alan Thorne of the Australian National University at Canberra, was co-author of a reaction to the Flores paper in the journal, Before Farming, and has weighed in on Jacob's side. He says: "If it was another species, as they are saying, then it's very unlikely that all the details of racial characteristics [are] exactly the same as Homo sapiens living there today. They might have one or two features but not all of them. There is something seriously misleading here."

Like Jacob, he thinks Homo floresiensis is a case of "secondary microcephaly". "That means that we don't know the genetic reason for [the disorder] but that secondary reasons may be responsible, like something being wrong in the gut. There are many examples in the literature. The disorder may be as common as mongolism, say one in 2,000. Dwarfism, anyway, goes with microcephaly, especially in hunter/gatherer populations."

And he supported Jacob's broader points. "Paleoanthropology has lost its way and people are desperate for new species. People are more aggressive. If, as Jacob thinks, it's a case of microcephaly, there are a lot of people in my field who cannot recognise a village idiot when they see one."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jacob loves a good row. "This is like ecstasy without the drug. It relieves you. The blood speeds up. It excites you. You think more. But it has stirred up a nest of hornets. It's like opening a can of worms and you cannot put them back in again. The creationists are using it for the wrong reason [to deny evolution]. I am not a creationist at all.

"I don't want to seem like a killjoy but we are looking for truth, not for fame. You have to look for the truth but fame will come to you whether you look for it or not," he says. "I think it's quite possible that there are other species. But in the past 15,000 years there is only one. It's not an entirely unimportant find because it is a pygmy skeleton found in a controlled excavation. But it's certainly not the most important in the last 150 years."

Further reading

Archaeology dept, University of New England, NSW, Australia

Original reports and research on the find from Nature

Before Farming reaction to find from Thorne et al

Profile of Teuka Jacob


<Homo Aves is sat in the peanut gallery with the other monkeys, chucking shells at all and sundry...>
Ythian posted a link to This Site (subversive Element) in it I found Tiny Tools
Tools of the Wee People
Towards the end of the 19th century hundreds of extraordinary flint tools were unearthed beneath the moorland peat of east Lancashire's Pennine Hills. By their miniature size, they seemed not to belong in the province of man, but rather in the realm of Gnomes, Elves and Faeries. None of the tools found - scrapers, borers, and tiny crescent-shaped knives was longer than half an inch indeed many were smaller than a quarter of an inch. The flaking by which they were shaped and brought to a sharp edge was so fine that, in many cases it could only be appreciated through magifying glasses. That the flints were not "bird points" - used for bird hunting - seems evident from the fact that nothing resembling an arrow head was found among them.

And while the scrapers and borers may have been conceivably been fitted with wooden handles (being far to small to be used by human hands), two observations suggest that this was not the case. no bored or engraved material were found in conjunction with the flints; and even with handles the scrapers would have been hopelessly impractical for the task of scraping animal flesh from its bones. The same observation applies to the crescent shaped knives, which were, in any case, clearly not designed to have handles or to be placed in wooden holders.

With that in mind, some have guessed that the knives were ritual replicas of the crescent moon. But why, in that case, they should have been found alongside small versions of conventional tools is a mystery, unless those also are supposed to have had ritual purpose. (To label ancient objects of unknown purpose as "ritual instruments" is, of course, a remedy commonly applied by puzzled archeologists.) If the Lancashire finds had been unique they would have probably been forgotten. But other examples of tools, apparently fashioned by and for small hands, or miniature people were discovered in England, beneath the floor of the drowned forest in Devon and in the sandy heathland of Suffolk.

However, England is not unique in these kinds of finds. More have been unearthed in Egypt, Africa, Australia, France, and Sicily, for example, and in India, where small crescent shaped knives of flint and agate were found in caves in the Vindhya hills. Whoever the makers of these pygmy flints were, and whatever their purpose, they seemed to have been an established class of artisans and to have plied their delicate craft from one end of the world to the other. An interesting note, many of the Celtic folklore tales describe that when the Celts originally came to England, Ireland and Scotland, they encountered a race of "wee" people, very small in stature. As legend goes the Celts promptly killed the wee people who had to flee underground. People in that region believed that the wee people would come to the surface periodically to steal human babies.
That seems like reaching rather - the Microlithic is a well understood phase in the European Mesolithic and similar tool assemblages are known from various cultures.
Museum unveils 'hobbit' remains

People in Oxfordshire are getting a chance to see first hand a discovery which archaeologists say "rewrites our knowledge of human evolution".

A replica of the skull of the Homo floresiensis - dubbed "the hobbit" - is on display at the University Museum of Natural History in Oxford.

The skull proved the existence of a one-metre-tall species that lived in Indonesia about 12,000 years ago.

The skull will be incorporated into the permanent displays of the museum.

Australian archaeologists unearthed the bones while digging at a site called Liang Bua, one of numerous limestone caves on Flores Island.

The remains of the partial skeleton were found at a depth of 5.9m (19ft).

At first, the researchers thought it was the body of a child. But further investigation revealed otherwise.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/e ... 201243.stm

Published: 2005/01/24 10:43:46 GMT

Cheese triangles shed light on hobbits

Anna Salleh
ABC Science Online

Monday, 31 January 2005

Cheese triangles are helping an Australian researcher to explain how hobbits on Flores could make the stone tools found with their bones.

Archaeology PhD student Mark Moore of the University of New England in Armidale presented his research at the recent Australian Archaeological Association conference.

One of the puzzling facts about the discovery of a new species of hobbit human in Liang Bua cave on Flores announced last year is that the remains were found alongside tools that appear to be as sophisticated as those made by modern humans.

This was a surprise as hobbits have such a small brain.

Moore began analysing tools in the cave before the hobbit remains were found.

The tools dated back around 100,000 years, much earlier than modern humans were believed to be in the area.

"When we started getting the dates back it became very puzzling indeed," he says. "We were thinking these must be modern human tools and that modern humans came into the area much earlier than we originally thought."

Then the researchers found the hobbit remains.

Could hobbits have made tools?

Most archaeologists think that tools are made by the creatures whose bones they are found beside. So far the remains of seven individual hobbits but no modern humans have been found beside tools in deposits older the 11,000 years ago. This suggests that hobbits made the tools.

But some researchers argue the hobbit brain capacity was not big enough to allow the kind of planning and intention involved in producing such sophisticated tools.

Moore uses the example of cutting cheese to demonstrate the type of thinking process involved in how humans make tools.

If you want to make perfect cheese triangles first you have to cut the cheese block diagonally, he says, then you turn one half of the block on its side and slice across it to get regular triangles.

This is an example of hierarchical thinking, which as far as we know is a unique attribute of how modern humans think.

But, says Moore, he has found is possible to make at least one particular type of the tool found alongside the hobbit, called a 'blade', quite incidentally and unintentionally, without hierarchical thinking.

Again, he uses the cheese analogy to explain.

If you were to just start slicing cheese off the block any old way, you would end up with various shaped pieces of cheese but the result would not indicate hierarchical thinking.

He is now interested in checking whether this applies to other types of tools in the cave.

Rethinking the meaning of tools?

If his theory is right, says Moore, it suggests archaeologists need to revise the way they link advanced thinking with stone tools.

Moore says determining the intention of ancient humans is fraught with difficulties but thinks he is being careful.

He has tested his theory by making tools himself in two ways: one with the intention of making a blade, and the other without. But he says this itself presents a problem.

"Since we're modern humans and we're always thinking hierarchically is it possible for him to be randomly flaking without intention?" he says.

"This is where the cheese cutting model is more useful."

In future Moore hopes to test the theory using a computer model, or by getting a bunch of people to successively flake a blade by post. Each person would flake a piece of the stone before posting it to the next, with the idea of minimising intentional flaking.


People often get caught up with defining things by name slike "blades" (which is often defined just as a ratio of width, length and thickness) esp. as they often take up a small proportion of an assemblage. Although they are found with a high frequency in Upper Palaeolithic assemblges with modern humans (but not exclusively so as we know Neaderthals also created Upper Palaeolithic tool kits) blades have also been found in Middle and Lower Palaeolithic assemblages so this isn't such a big suprise but might help push this specific tool off the list of indicators of advanced cognition.
Seems we are in for a long wait beofre the remains are handed back so more people can study them:

Newly found species goes missing again

By Stephen Cauchi
Science reporter

February 10, 2005

The remains of an extinct metre-high human species have become virtually as hidden as they were before their discovery last year rocked the world of palaeontology.

One of Indonesia's leading palaeontologists is refusing to hand back the remains to the team that found them on the Indonesian island of Flores.

As reported last year, Professor Teuku Jacob, of Gadjah Mada University, grabbed the remains of the seven creatures - dubbed "hobbits" - and locked them in his safe, refusing to let other scientists study them. He was not in the Australian-Indonesian team that found the bones, but was given them by an Indonesian team member.

Professor Jacob told the Australian press that he would return the bones on January 1. But The Age has learnt he has not done so and does not plan to.

Mike Morwood, of the University of New England, who led the expedition, has been in Indonesia trying to get the bones back. He said the director of Jakarta's Indonesian Centre for Archaeology, Tony Djubiantono, asked Professor Jacob to return the bones, to no avail.

On January 7, Professor Morwood told The Age that "Tony Djubiantono has just sent a letter to Jacob formally requesting their return, but has given him until February 1 to complete his analysis".

Come February 1, still no luck. "Tony Djubiantono phoned Jacob yesterday and demanded the return of the remains to the Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta. Jacob asked for another week," Professor Morwood said.

This week still nothing had happened. "No joy," Professor Morwood said. "Dr Tony Djubiantono has not long been in the position as director of the Centre for Archaeology and seems reluctant to really push things. There are a number of new publications and TV documentaries coming out in March (including the National Geographic special on 13th), which will put extra pressure on Jacob to comply."

Professor Jacob blasted the Australians last year on several fronts. The Australian (and world) consensus is that the "hobbits" are a separate human species, Homo floresiensis, which diverged from the modern human evolutionary line about a million years ago.

Not so, says Professor Jacob. They are just a pygmy form of modern human who suffered a brain-shrinking disease, he says. Moreover, the first skeleton found was not that of a female, as claimed by the Australians, but of a male. And to cap it off, he claimed the Indonesian half of the team was not given due credit for its part in the find.

Studying the bones is extremely important as they may harbour vital DNA clues and other evidence about the ancestry of Homo floresiensis and the way they lived.

Professor Jacob has a history of doing things like this. Team member Bert Roberts, of Wollongong University, said last year that Professor Jacob had a record of "very carefully curating fossils and letting very few other people look at them. We don't want to inflame the situation... otherwise maybe he'll poison the waters and we won't get back into Indonesia next year".

The team hopes to discover more skeletons in digs in Indonesia this year.

Oh it just gets better - there can be some bitter infighting in palaeoanthropology and Alan Thorne is a leading Multiregionalist and will get some serious flak for this:

Tele-hobbits start small war

By Deborah Smith, Science Editor
February 18, 2005

A new stoush has erupted over the "hobbit" bones, with Australian researchers coming under fire for examining the priceless remains while they are being held illegally by an Indonesian researcher.

Alan Thorne, an archaeologist at the Australian National University, and Maciej Henneberg, an anatomist at Adelaide University, studied the bones of the new species of tiny people this week in Yogyakarta, while being filmed for an Australian television program.

A German researcher has also reportedly taken parts of the bones in an attempt to extract some DNA.

Iain Davidson, professor of archaeology and palaeoanthropology at the University of New England, said he was extremely disturbed by the behaviour of the three researchers. "No scientist should have any truck with stolen remains, no matter how interesting they may be," Professor Davidson said.

Peter Brown, a member of the Australian and Indonesian team that found the bones of Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores, said the team was outraged by the developments. Professor Brown, of the University of New England, said the researchers should be disciplined by their universities.

During excavations on Flores in 2003 and 2004 the team unearthed the remains of seven "hobbits", people only a metre tall with brains the size of grapefruits who hunted pygmy elephants and giant rats and survived until at least 12,000 years ago.

In December an Indonesian palaeoanthropologist, Teuku Jacob, removed all of the hobbit remains from their storage place in Jakarta to his own laboratory in Yogyakarta, without the permission of the scientists who found them and before they had had time to study them all closely.

Although Professor Jacob, of Gadjah Mada University, signed an agreement to return them by January 1, he has kept them and missed other promised return dates since.

Professor Jacob in Indonesia and Professor Henneberg in Australia said last year in the media, before they saw the bones, that the hobbits were not a new species but just modern humans with a brain deformity called microencephaly.

This was dismissed as "ill-informed" by Professor Brown, who said the description of the new dwarfed species had gone through intensive review by international experts in the field before it was accepted for publication in the journal Nature in October.

Professor Davidson, who is not a member of the discovery team, said scientists working in other countries expected there to be cultural differences. But it was unusual for a scientist not involved in a project to gain control over discoveries part way through it.

Professor Jacob's action is in breach of an agreement between the University of New England and the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology, where the bones were originally stored. He said Australian scientists should live up to the high standards of behaviour that are normal here.

Professor Jacob would not say last night when he would give the bones back. He said he had the right to allow the Australian scientists and a researcher from the Max Planck Institute access to the remains. Scientists from around the world should be able to examine the hobbit bones and "make up their own mind what it is".

He said he would be criticised whatever he did.

But Professor Davidson said it was the sole right of the team finding the remains to decide who had access to them. He said the appearance of Professor Henneberg and Dr Thorne on the TV program 60 Minutes would "turn physical anthropology into a circus". Professor Henneberg and Dr Thorne were unavailable for comment.

It does keep getting better and better. How many more misinformed journalists will keep spreading misinformation? Let's not forget the other article above, which includes this:

"But he is keeping the latest Flores find in a safe in his steel-doored vault. Like all other major finds made by the department of archaeology, the bones were sent to his laboratory. He did not - as the press have said - kidnap them. "They even gave me the money for the transport.""
Has the term `skullduggery` been used yet or am I not paying attention?
'Hobbit' bone of contention settled

By Stephen Cauchi
Science reporter
February 25, 2005

A bitter academic dispute over the bones of the "hobbits" - the extinct metre-high human species whose sensational discovery was announced last year - has finally been resolved, but not without animosity.

One of Indonesia's leading palaeontologists, Professor Teuku Jacob of Gadjah Mada University, last year seized the remains of the seven hobbit skeletons and locked them in his safe, refusing to let other scientists study them.

He was not in the Australian-Indonesian team that found the bones on the Indonesian island of Flores but was given permission to take them by an Indonesian team member.

He was supposed to return the bones on January 1, but did not. He further angered the Australian team by letting a select group of scientists study the bones - scientists who share his view that the hobbits are not a separate human species but modern humans with a disease that causes shrunken brains.

However, Professor Mike Morwood of the University of New England told The Age that a deputation of Indonesian scientists had finally collected the bones from Professor Jacob in Java.

"All bones, bar two, returned to Pusat Arkeologi staff this morning at Gadjah Mada University, Jogyakarta," Professor Morwood said in an email. "Jacob has kept a femur and a tibia for further study - but they want a specific date for return... they will be kept secured at the Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta."

Professor Jacob last year bitterly criticised the Australian researchers, calling them "latter-day conquistadors". Australian scientists pointed to Professor Jacob's record of hoarding away precious archaeological finds.

It wasn't long ago that some as respected as Robin Dunbar wouldn't be able to write an article mentioningthe orang pendek without some people smirking and making loonie signs behind his back.

Sat 26 Feb 2005

Hobbits or orang pendek?



WE WILL never know her name - indeed, we will never know whether she even had a name - but when her remains were unearthed last year in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, she caused the kind of stir that we normally associate with Hollywood film stars.

She died in complete obscurity around 18,000 years ago, only to be catapulted into glittering fame by a chance discovery.

Soon nicknamed "The Hobbit", below, she excited the world of evolutionary science and sent media into something of a spin amid claims that the story of human evolution would have to be rewritten.

In fact the truth was a little more prosaic, but just as remarkable for all that. She was certainly distinctive enough to be given a new species name, Homo floriensis, after her home island. But what made the Hobbit so newsworthy was not that she was one of our direct ancestors - in fact, we probably last shared a common ancestor with her about a million and a half years ago - but the fact that her kind had survived at all for so long.

Our current understanding of human evolution, based on the fossil evidence we currently have, goes something like the following. After the long haul of the "apeman" phase (typified by the 3.3 million-year-old "Lucy" skeleton from Ethiopia), our ancestors underwent a relatively rapid shift into a more obviously humanlike form known to scientists as Homo erectus (literally "erect man") sometime just short of 1.5 million years ago. Though brain size increased quite a bit from the 350cc typical of its earlier apelike size, it was still a long way off the relatively massive 1,250cc that we find in modern humans. What we do find in Homo erectus, however, is a new body shape that has the same long legs, narrow hips and barrel chest that modern humans have - features associated with a more efficient form of striding walk that was good for covering long distances in a nomadic, migratory lifestyle.

Armed with its long legs, Homo erectus set off to conquer the world, breaking out of Africa for the first time around a million years ago, and very rapidly colonising the furthest corners of mainland Asia. In the millennia that followed, the Asian populations went their own way, cut off from their African cousins.

Around half a million years ago, some of the African populations began to undergo rapid change, mainly involving a dramatic increase in brain size. Over the space of a couple of hundred thousand years, the African erectus metamorphosed into modern humans, exploded out of Africa once again (about 70,000 years ago).

In the next 10,000 years they colonised every corner of the Old World and Australia, finally even launching themselves across the Bering Strait into the Americas around 20,000 years ago.

When modern humans reached the Far East, it seems likely that they came into contact with the remnants of the east Asian erectus population who had survived in the backwaters of China long after their African equivalents had died out or evolved into the modern human form. But so far as we knew, none of these Asian erectus populations had survived past 60,000 years ago.

The little lady of Flores island changed all that. Here she was, hale and hearty as recently as 13,000 years ago, a mere handshake’s distance in geological time. What makes her all the more remarkable was her small brain size. We are familiar enough today with diminutive humans - the pygmies of the south Asian forests and Africa are not much bigger than she was. Whereas all these modern human pygmies have brains that are the same size as everyone else’s, the Hobbit and her kind had brains that were no bigger than those of our mutual apeman ancestors.

To cap it all, along with their bones were found stone tools of a modestly sophisticated kind, and evidence for fire and the hunting of large animals, including the now-extinct stegadon - a primitive elephant. For someone the size of a three-year-old human child, killing a one tonne stegadon would be no mean feat; which at best suggests some degree of co-ordinated planning and cooperation.

On the nearby island of Borneo, aboriginal forest tribes have long claimed that they were familiar with three kinds of people in the forest: humans, the orang-utan (the familiar Asian great ape) and the orang pendek (a diminutive forest dweller). Perhaps the orang pendek is the surviving folk memory of contact with the Hobbit. We came within just a whisker of shaking her hand.

• Professor of evolutionary biology Robin Dunbar is the author of Human Story published in hardback by Faber and Faber at £12.99

Remains of 'hobbit' returned to owners

March 3, 2005

The priceless remains of what Australian researchers believe is a new species of mini human have been returned to their rightful owners almost four months after being taken by an Indonesian scientist.

The Australian co-discoverers of the species dubbed the "hobbit" after author JRR Tolkien's mythical characters, had feared palaeoanthropologist Professor Teuku Jacob would never give them back.

But archaeologist Michael Morwood of Australia's New England University at Armidale said the remains were returned to the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology (ICA) last week.

Morwood, in collaboration with Indonesian and American scientists, last year discovered the grapefruit-sized skull and bones of a fully grown female barely a metre tall in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores,

All the material had been returned, except for two thighbones and a forearm bone from the skeleton of the hobbit, which he had kept for further study, Morwood said.

"The remains have always belonged in the collections of the ICA. They are very fragile and this will enable other scientists to study them," he said from Jakarta via telephone.

The prehistoric remains, along with those of at least seven other so-called hobbits dating to between 12,000-95,000 years ago, are to be displayed at a press conference at the ICA's Jakarta headquarters on Friday.

The research team will also announce new findings on the hobbit's brain that are expected to be published in the latest edition of the journal Science in the United States.

The announcement is an attempt to silence critics who reject the notion of a new human species, arguing the skull belonged to a pygmy human who suffered from a brain-shrinking disorder, a finding Morwood described as lunatic fringe stuff.

Jacob is one such critic. He was not involved in the excavation but took possession of the remains last November to conduct his own research under an informal agreement with a close friend and former director of the ICA, but without the ICA's official approval.

He locked the remains in a vault in his office at Gadjah Mada University in Jogjakarta, central Java, before the research team had analysed and documented them, and missed a January 1 deadline to return them.

The prominent scientist said he was deeply offended at the way Australian scientists and journalists had portrayed him.

"I have been working with the archaeology centre for 42 years and we usually exchange things without any documentation or letters," Jacob said.

"But suddenly the Australians tried to make us fight against each other, accusing me of stealing, kidnapping the remains.

"I am 75 years old and I had never before been accused of stealing."

Jacob said the international storm over the remains had delayed DNA and other detailed tests on samples he sent to the Max Planck Institute in Germany and another laboratory in Jakarta.

Once these tests were completed, he planned to publish his findings contradicting the discovery team's assertion that the little pot-bellied humanoids descended from Homo erectus, from which modern humans also evolved.

The Hobbit inspires an all-in academic brawl

Wednesday, 2 March 2005

W hen 60 Minutes does a science story there has got to be more to it than an interesting discovery. So it was last Sunday when the program devoted a segment to one-metre tall humanoid skeletons found on the Indonesian island of Flores, dated to around 18,000 years ago, which have been dubbed "hobbits".

An extinct race of hobbits is perhaps enough to attract populist journalism. But the program was more about the sometimes vicious interpersonal and professional conflict between several Australian anthropologists and archaeologists, with a side serve of Indonesian intrigue.

The team of scientists from the University of New England and the Indonesian Centre for Archaelogy who conducted the dig described the skeletons in Nature last October as evidence of a previously unknown human species, an interpretation which has gained broad endorsement of their peers.

But Dr Alan Thorne, formerly of the ANU's Department of Archaeology and Natural History in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, is an implacable dissenter. He told 60 Minutes that it was "crystal clear, no shades of grey at all" that the skeleton was of a homo sapiens, just like us, who suffered the disability of microencephaly.

"It's a modern human, albeit one with many problems," Thorne said. "The striking clue immediately was this is a person with a brain that is less than half the size of a normal human being. That should have set the bells ringing and it didn't."

Thorne and another dissenter, Professor Maciej Henneberg, a paleopathologist at the University of Adelaide, had been invited to study the skeletons by professor Teuku Jacob, who is regarded as the doyen of Indonesian archaeology. Soon after the Nature article was published, Professor Jacob had used his influence to take possession of the material and deny the original researchers access to it, despite the fact that he had had no involvement in the project.

One insider says that this action was consistent with Jacob's reputation for "playing games" with other researchers by withholding access to specimens. "He is really on a power trip," the insider said.

Professor Jacob echoed Thorne's criticism of the work of the original researchers. "They are not fools, but they are a little careless and too hasty," he told 60 Minutes.

At the core of this dispute are two issues, one professional and one personal. The professional issue is Thorne's adherence to a theory that modern humans did not come out of Africa but evolved separately in several parts of the world from earlier homo species. The personal issue centres on enmity between Thorne and one of the two lead researchers, Professor Peter Brown.

Brown was Thorne's Phd student in the 1980s but they became estranged when Brown showed that skulls found at Kow Swamp in northern Victoria were of modern humans - homo sapiens - which had been artificially cranially deformed. This cultural practice, believed to involve the regular pressing of a child's head by the mother in the first 12 months of its life, was observed in Aborigines in Cape York in the 19th century.

Thorne had previously interpreted the shape of these skulls to be descendants of a homo erectus, a precursor of homo sapiens.

"They really fell out on this," says Dr Colin Groves, a senior lecturer at the ANU's School of Archaeology and Anthropology. "The two have just scrapped ever since. If one says one thing it automatically ensures that the other will say the opposite."

Interviewed yesterday, Brown was not holding back in his criticisms of Thorne and Henneberg, who had written an article for an Adelaide newspaper expressing his doubts about the published findings before examining the skeletons.

"I only take scientific comments when they are peer-reviewed rather than being published in a small local newspaper or scratched on a toilet wall somewhere," Brown said. "They have their own agenda, which has to do with an outmoded model of human evolution.

"They have been unable to get anything published in a peer-reviewed journal, they have been rejected several times.

"The initial two papers were reviewed by 12 leading scientists from around the world, and Alan Thorne simply isn't in that hierarchy."

He said an article will be published in Science later this week "which points out why they are completely wrong", but his most scathing attack centres on their willingness to accept Jacob's invitation to study the skeletons in his possession.

"They knew damn well the circumstances under which Jacob had the material. They knew that he had material which was the scientific property of another group of people and hadn't been described by the excavators and the people who made the investment in recovering it, yet they went there and had a look at this material.

"That's grossly improper, and runs contrary to all standard ethics of scientific behaviour. Thorne is retired now and there's not much that anyone can do about him, but I think Henneberg should be severely censured by the [Adelaide] university.

"There is going to be a huge stink about it in the very near future, which I'm quite pleased about."

Thorne did not return calls yesterday (he has previously been dismissive of this writer's work), but Professor Henneberg emphatically rejected Brown's attack.

He said that he and Thorne were invited by Jacob to study the hobbit skeletons in the spirit of the original agreement between the Indonesian Research Centre for Archaeology and the University of New England.

"This memorandum of understanding states that each side has the right to consult any third party they wish," Professor Henneberg said. "They insisted on me coming, initially I didn't want to come because I am very busy with other things."

He said that scientific debate should be about facts.

"We never raised any ethical issues. We raised issues of academic and scientific fact and interpretation, whereas, I am sorry to say, the other side, instead of continuing academic debate about fact and interpretation turned it into an ethical and legal attack, as if to obscure and hamper debate of scientific fact."

As a paleopathologist, his expertise is the diagnosis of disease from the evidence of ancient bones.

"Pathologies can mimic evolutionary processes and evolutionary changes," he said. "My comparisons showed that I cannot exclude that possibility. I had an opportunity to see the skeleton and confirm my diagnosis."

Dr Groves, who recently gave public lectures on the hobbit discovery in Canberra and Sydney, reflects the mainstream professional view that Thorne and Henneberg have limited their interpretations of the skeletons to suit their wider theory of human evolution.

He said that the small brain was just one characteristic of the hobbit that distinguishes it from modern humans. While microcephalics have a "beakier" face than normal homo sapiens, with a pointy chin, but this was not the case with the hobbit's skull which has a receding chin.

"Even in flat-faced people like Japanese, the [microcephalic] face is really beaky compared to the so-called hobbit," Groves said.

The hobbit had long arms in proportion to its legs, not a characteristic of microcephalics, and the hobbit's lower jaw has internal buttressing that is similar to earlier homo species such homo erectus and homo habilis, but not homo sapiens.

Perhaps the most telling evidence is yet to come. It is understood that at least one more jawbone found at the site has the same characteristics. The odds against finding two microcephalic skeletons are so high that this effectively rules that analysis out.

"There's no chance," Groves said. "The describers were perfectly correct to describe it as a new species."

Whatever tribulations the hobbit people endured in their own lives, they could never have imagined the ruckus they would cause amongst grown-up big people 18,000 years later

Analysis of the diminutive cranium of Homo floresiensis - a tiny hobbit-like human that lived in Indonesia just 13,000 years ago - confirms it as a unique species and reveals remarkably advanced features for such a small brain.

The skull and other bones of one female and fragments from up to six other specimens were discovered in caves on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003 and revealed to the world in October 2004. The remarkably petite human stood just a metre tall and had a brain about one-third the size of modern humans.

But Dean Falk, an expert on brain evolution at Florida State University, US, who has analysed the skull of H. floresiensis says it has some remarkably advanced morphological features, including ones associated with complex brain processes in living humans. "It has an extraordinary morphology unlike anything I've seen in 30 years," she told New Scientist.

This adds weight to the theory that H. floresiensis may have possessed an intelligence and tool-building ability traditionally associated with much larger-brained humans. The charred bones of animals were also found in the caves on Flores. "It may well be that the population was hunting, making tools and using fire," says Falk. "I'm conservative by nature but in light of these features we find nothing to contradict this speculation."

Surface features
Falk used data collected during CT scans performed shortly after the skull was discovered to build a 3D computer model of the cranial cavity. This mirrors the overall shape of the brain and can even reveal certain surface features. She compared the model to ones made from the skulls of other extinct pre-humans along with those of modern humans and living apes.

Falk found several advanced morphological features, including enlarged frontal and temporal lobes and an extended area at the back called the lunate sulcus. In modern humans the frontal lobes are associated with forward planning and problem solving and temporal lobes are thought to play a key role in memory. The extension of the lunate sulcus is typically associated with a more highly developed ability to analyse sensory information, says Falk.

Disregarding size, the brain of H. floresiensis most closely resembled that of Homo erectus, a human ancestor that disappeared around 70,000 years ago that was thought to have made relatively complex tools.

But Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London, UK, says it may be rash to draw too many conclusions about the intelligence of H. floresiensis from the brain morphology alone. He notes that some features also seem to predate H. erectus. "I reserve judgement on what kind of intelligence and technology the animal might have had," he says.

Striking diversity
Stringer adds that the picture is far from simple as the brain has some features unlike anything seen before.

The discovery of H. floresiensis was hailed as the most important anthropological find for 50 years. It alters the picture of human evolution, showing that it have continued until very recently and was more diverse than previously thought.

But the find has stirred up heated debate among anthropologists, a small number of whom refuse to accept it is a unique new species at all. Bernard Wood, an anthropologist at George Washington University, US, says the model should at least dispel dissenting claims that the remains are not a unique species but simply a modern human with microcephaly, a rare condition that results in a reduced cranium size.

"Unequivocally, it is not what you would expect a miniaturised modern human brain to look like," Wood insists. "Nor is it like the brain of a human with a pathological microcephaly."

Journal reference: Science (vol 307)
'Hobbit' Confirmed as New Human Species

Scientists have confirmed that the "hobbit" discovered on a remote Indonesian island is likely to be a new species of human.

Skeletal remains of the 3ft-tall creature were found in a cave on the island of Flores, alongside sophisticated stone tools and evidence of fire.

The discovery of the female specimen, given the name Homo floresiensis, caused a sensation when it was announced last October.

She is thought to have lived 18,000 years ago and had a mixture of traits from an early human ancestor, Homo erectus, and people living today.

Examination of her teeth showed she was fully grown at the time of her death - yet she stood barely 36 inches tall.

Scientists nicknamed her "the hobbit" after the dwarf-like characters in JRR Tolkein's mythical trilogy The Lord Of The Rings.

But the find was controversial from the start. Some experts dismissed the claim that Homo floresiensis represented a previously unknown branch of the human family tree.

The remains belonged either to a pygmy version of a known human species, or an individual with an abnormally small skull due to a birth defect, it was argued.

Now new evidence shows that the "hobbit", catalogued by scientists as LB1, almost certainly really does belong to a novel human species.

Scientists used computer tomography (CT) scans of the creature's skull to create a three dimensional virtual model of the surface of its brain, called an endocast.

A physical latex model was also made. Together, they provided a detailed map of imprints left on the inside of the skull which corresponded to the brain's outer features.

Professor Dean Falk, from Florida State University, Tallahassee, USA, who led the research, said: "I thought the Homo floresiensis brain would look like a chimp's. I was wrong. There were fancier things on LB1's brain."

The endocasts revealed a large and surprising swelling of the frontal lobe, together with other anatomical features suggestive of higher thinking processes.

They might explain the tools and signs of co-operative activity found in the creature's cave, Professor Falk's team reported in the journal Science.

Earlier scientists had wondered how a creature with a brain the size of a grapefruit could display human-like intelligence.

The researchers compared the "hobbit" endocast with others including those from chimpanzees, an adult female Homo erectus, a present-day woman, an adult female pygmy, and a microcephalic - a person with an abnormally small skull.

Professor Falk said: "The scaling of brain to body isn't at all what we'd expect to find in pygmies, and the shape is all wrong to be a microcephalic. This is something new."

The endocast findings showed that Homo floresiensis was closely related to Homo erectus.

It has been suggested that the creature was descended from a race of Homo erectus which reached Flores by sea and evolved into "hobbits" in response to limited food supplies on the isolated island.

Alternatively, it was possible the two species shared an unknown, small-bodied and small-brained ancestor.

At the time LB1 was alive, a collection of other bizarre creatures also roamed Flores. They included dwarf elephants the size of ponies, rats as big as dogs and giant lizards even bigger than the 10ft long Komodo dragons which still inhabit the region today.

Further discoveries of charred bones and stone tools on Flores suggest that "hobbits" lived there from about 95,000 years ago to at least 13,000 years ago.

Some experts have not ruled out the fantastic possibility that the creatures might still be living in the impenetrable forests and cave systems of south-east Asia.

Dutch explorers who colonised Flores 100 years ago were told colourful stories of a human-like creature local inhabitants called "ebu gogo".

They too stood about three feet tall. The tales described how they could be heard "murmuring" to one another, and how, parrot fashion, they repeated back words spoken to them.

However, most of the prehistoric fauna on Flores is thought to have been wiped out by a volcanic eruption 12,000 years ago.
More reports:



www.usatoday.com/tech/science/discoveri ... rain_x.htm


And the news reports from Science 307 (5714):

Small but Smart? Flores Hominid Shows Signs of Advanced Brain
Michael Balter
Science 4 March 2005: 1386-1389.

"Hobbit" Bones Go Home to Jakarta
Michael Balter
Science 4 March 2005: 1386.

It looks like the actual paper will be publsihed next week but is available through their Science Express feature:

The Brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis
Dean Falk, Charles Hildebolt, Kirk Smith, Mike J. Morwood, Thomas Sutikna, Peter Brown, Jatmiko, E. Wayhu Saptomo, Barry Brunsden, and Fred Prior
Published online March 3 2005; 10.1126/science.1109727 (Science Express Reports )

'Hobbit' fossil likely represents new branch on human family tree
04 Mar 2005

A fossil of a diminutive human nicknamed "the Hobbit" likely represents a previously unrecognized species of early humans, according to the results of a detailed comparison of the fossil's brain case with those of humans, apes and other human ancestors.

Skeptics had argued that the Hobbit, discovered in Indonesia and first announced last fall, could have been an individual who suffered from a disorder that limited brain growth known as microcephaly. The fossils' discoverers had suggested that the Hobbit was either a pygmy form of a known species or a previously undiscovered species of early humans.

more at
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medical ... wsid=20683
More reports on the brain study:

www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/st ... 17,00.html



And a ripsote:

Boffin unimpressed by Hobbit study

March 4, 2005 - 7:19PM

Studies claiming to have found a previously unrecognised species of miniature human were superficial and poorly conducted, an Australian scientist said.

According to Australian and other scientists, a skull and bones found on the Indonesian island of Flores last year represent a previously unknown dwarfed human species - by far the smallest ever found, with a brain no bigger than a grapefruit.

Their view was bolstered by brain comparisons laid out in the online edition of the journal Science.

However, Adelaide University Professor of anatomical sciences Maciej Henneberg said the new study had not changed his view that the hominids were more likely suffering from some variation of a condition known as microcephaly.

He believes the lone skull in the study came from a woman who had microcephaly, a rare disorder that causes a tiny head and brain. Microcephaly causes the face to grow at a normal rate, but not the head. People wind up with a sloping forehead and no chin.

"The analysis is poorly done, comparative samples are inadequate to draw any binding conclusions," Prof Henneberg said.

"It's a superficial, quick work that does not resolve the problem appropriately.

"It doesn't have enough convincing argument."

In the newest study scientists from Australia, the US and Indonesia said CAT scans of the inside of a skull - found among the bones of eight individuals in a cave on Flores - suggested brains that would have allowed advanced behaviour such as toolmaking.

They said further study of the skull of the creature, nicknamed "the Hobbit" after the JRR Tolkien character, showed it clearly was a normal adult of its species, not a mutant or diseased specimen, as critics had alleged.

However, Prof Henneberg said his criticism remained and centred on the comparison of the Flores skull with just one brain known to have suffered from microcephaly.

Not only was that inadequate, he said, but the scientists used a different variation of microcephaly to make their comparisons.

"It's like comparing a genetic defect with rubella or herpes, completely different diseases caused by different factors," he said.

Prof Henneberg said he would write a technical commentary for Science based on some follow-up studies.

He also called for the original skeleton to be re-examined and he said he would welcome a move to extend the excavation on Flores to try to uncover more skulls.

"At the moment we don't have enough evidence to support the creation of a whole species," he said.

"The whole species has been created using one head and a few other fragments of bones."

And a good overview of the controversy as it currently stands:

Hopping mad over 'hobbit'

Scientists fight over fossil skull and bones of humanlike creature

David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor

Friday, March 4, 2005

Take a single fossil skull the size of a chimpanzee that might have held a highly advanced human brain, a trove of ancient humanlike bones and teeth, and an odd assortment of stone tools from an unknown age, and you add a major new mystery to the endless puzzle of human evolution.

Now add a dose of intrigue to the mystery, as a team of angry anthropologists charges one of their colleagues with outrageously unethical behavior, including destroying evidence that might have helped to solve the arcane puzzle.

All this surfaced Thursday, furthering the astonishment of scientists around the world that began in October when the anthropologists first reported they had discovered the remains of a bizarre creature barely 3 feet tall that seemed part modern human and part ancient ancestor -- a creature they affectionately named "hobbit."

The scientists claimed that the fossil skull and bones -- and the stone tools found with them deep in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores -- represented an entirely new species of tiny human. Homo floresiensis, as they formally named their find, emerged in the evolutionary lineage on that island some 95,000 years ago and went extinct there some 12,000 years ago, the scientists said.

On Thursday, an anthropologist who specializes in the human brain, Dean Falk of Florida State University, announced in the online journal Science Express that she and her colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis have created a "virtual endocast" of the hobbit's brain, showing structures that establish that the creature could think, make plans and initiate useful behavior.

At the same time, one of the original discoverers, Michael Morwood of the University of New England in Australia, depicted the humanlike hobbit as a brave if tiny creature that hunted fierce pygmy elephants with spears, made fire in its family cave and fashioned stone drills and awls and axes. Morwood said the hobbit may have been descended from the hominid species Homo erectus, which evolved in Africa nearly 2 million years ago and moved into Asia and perhaps Europe before its line died out some 400,000 years ago.

It was also Morwood who, during a telephone news conference Thursday from Jakarta, along with Falk in Florida, accused Indonesia's leading anthropologist with some of the worst crimes in the lexicon of science.

"Unethical" and "illegal" were the terms Morwood used to describe the activities of Teuku Jacob of the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Java. According to Morwood, Jacob visited the Flores cave last fall, "borrowed" many of the bones and only began returning them this year -- after sending some to scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany without permission.

Jacob was not available for comment by telephone or e-mail after Morwood raised his charges, but has long disputed the Australian anthropologists' conclusions. He maintains publicly that "Flores Man," as he calls the creature, is merely a diminutive version of Homo sapiens and that the one skull found so far is merely an adult with a version of a congenitally misshapen head called microcephaly.

Morwood insisted Thursday that Jacob and his colleagues have not only destroyed some of the bone specimens, but had even glued one broken bone together to hide the damage.

"We are disgusted with some of the material that has now been returned," Morwood said. "It's appalling -- severely and irreparably damaged. Some has been washed and dissolved in acetone to make it impossible to extract any DNA for analysis."

Falk and her Washington University colleagues, whose work was supported by grants from the National Geographic Society, said she was able to reconstruct the outer portions of the hobbit's brain by using a CT scan -- a type of X-ray imaging -- made in Indonesia to create a model depicting the inside of the creature's skull. It showed many of the creases, folds and bulges of the brain's cortex and other structures much the way a cast of a glove's interior would reflect the skin features of a hand that was once inside it, Falk said.

Her "beautiful latex cast" reflected a "fantastic evolutionary voyage" for the hobbit, Falk said -- a voyage that took it from its primitive ancestry to a virtually modern, sentient version of an early human being.

The 18,000-year-old brain inside the skull most closely resembled the brain of Homo erectus, she said, but is far more advanced, and three segments of the frontal lobes of its cortex show it was capable of "sophisticated planned behavior."

Falk said she compared the cast with the brains of two other earlier hominids, 10 ordinary humans, 10 gorillas, 18 chimpanzees, an adult female pygmy and the skull of a microcephalic human. The hobbit's brain was different from them all and was positively not microcephalic, she maintained.

Morwood said that by now he and his team of Australian and Indonesian anthropologists have collected the lower jawbone of another member of the Flores clan and other bones from a third, together with scores of primitive tools the creatures must have fashioned.

"Their teeth have primitive crowns and roots," Morwood said of the earlier Flores individuals, but their arms are strange indeed: "long enough to reach down to their knees," he said. The anthropologists plan to test some bone and hair samples for DNA, he said.

Other scientists have challenged the Morwood team on virtually every count, but none so far in any peer-reviewed scientific journal. Some claim the tools are obviously much too modern; some say the single chimp-sized skull could well represent a tribe of "nanocephalic" midgets; some maintain the bones from so many different strata in the cave mean there must have been a long comingling of many different hominid species.

The best summary of the hobbit's current status, however, may well come from Richard Klein, a Stanford anthropologist -- an outstanding authority on human evolution and a specialist on the emergence of human cultures.

Klein is unconvinced that Falk's "virtual endocast" revealed all that much about the mind and thinking ability of Homo floresiensis. A single skull, he said, simply can't tell scientists enough to form firm conclusions about it.

"The only way to demonstrate that we're dealing with an evolutionary development rather than just an oddity," he said, "is to find at least one more skull. As it is, we have a bizarre set of finds in a bizarre set of circumstances, and we just can't be sure what they all mean."

Mr. R.I.N.G. said:
SO does this mean there are three types of humaniod creature that has walked the earth - humans, neatherthals, and the Floresiensis?

In addition to homo sapiens sapiens, neanderthals and homo florensiensis, there are probably a dozen or so other known species of "humanoids". Lucy, the infamous australopithicus afarensis specimen (named for a certain acid-inspired Beatles song) dates back some 4 million years. Of course, I would expect the discovery of many more species of humanoids in the future. Yay for anthropology :D