Small skull, huge controversy

Research|Penn State, an online magazine by the Pennsylvana State University has an interesting feature-length article on Dr Bob Eckhart, who leads the charge in debunking the Hobbit myth. While SEAArch has covered plenty in the news about homo floresiensis, this article presents an in-depth look at the arguments against the Hobbit theory and is worth a read for anyone following the story.

c. 23 April 2007 (Research|Penn State) Research|Penn State, an online magazine by the Pennsylvana State University has an interesting feature-length article on Dr Bob Eckhart, who leads the charge in debunking the Hobbit myth. While SEAArch has covered plenty in the news about homo floresiensis, this article presents an in-depth look at the arguments against the Hobbit theory and is worth a read for anyone following the story.

Homo Floresiensis by Bob Eckhart

Small skull, huge controversy

In October 2004, while working in his lab, Bob Eckhardt heard a report on National Public Radio: A team of archaeologists had unearthed bones of a three-foot-tall humanlike creature on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Based on the shape and size of the skull and other skeletal remains, the archaeologists, led by Michael J. Morwood of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, claimed they had discovered a new species of human.

The diminutive biped had a cranium no larger than a chimpanzee’s, yet its bones had been found along with abundant stone tools. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal in the same stratum, along with luminescence dating of surrounding sediments, implied that the skeleton was only 18,000 years old. Considering other earlier archaeological finds on Flores, Morwood and his colleagues concluded that a new human species had evolved from a preceding population of Homo erectus that had been isolated for over 840,000 years on Flores, in the archipelago between Asia and Australia.

Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology in Penn State’s department of kinesiology, added it up. Three feet tall. A tiny brain. Complex stone tools. Evolved in complete isolation in 40,000 generations. He says: “It just didn’t ring true.”

Eckhardt read the scientific papers, published in the British journal Nature, setting forth the findings and conclusions of Morwood’s group. “A lot of things didn’t make sense,” he says. “For instance, the overall height seemed to be off. I took the long-bone measurements from the paper and plugged them into standard regression formulas.” Where Morwood and colleagues estimated an overall height of 1.06 meters for their specimen, Eckhardt came up with figures ranging from 1.15 to 1.33 meters, with an average of 1.25 meters—more than seven inches taller than Morwood’s estimate. Eckhardt also wondered about the proximity of the small cranium to sophisticated stone tools, including points, perforators, blades, and microblades. Over a century of research by anthropologists has established a rough correlation between an increasing brain size and advances in stone-tool technology. The kinds of tools described in the Nature article matched those made elsewhere by Homo sapiens. Says Eckhardt, “It seemed very unlikely that a human with a chimp-sized brain would have invented such tools independently and in total isolation.”


Related Books:
Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

4 thoughts on “Small skull, huge controversy”

  1. This seems to be a subject that will cause lots of interesting debates for the foreseeable future. Wonder if we will ever know the real story!!!

  2. Yeah, I think the exciting thing about this science is that it’s gotten a good numbber of scientiests talking about it. Personally, I’m rooting for a new species altogether. But the article is very good in itself that it’s very detailed about why Dr. Eckhardt isn’t convinced it’s a new species.

  3. This is a great story and I think it is premature to dismiss this find based on the analysis of Jacob. We’ll know more once the original research team gets back to the caves in Flores. Hard to believe, but their work was halted by the Indonesian government at one point. Of course, I have a vested interest in hoping this story has some validity to it ,having written a fictional novel on the find. There is more on this ongoing controversy about Homo floresiensis at http://www.floresgirl.com.

    Erik John Bertel

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