Hobbit studies, in the wider scheme of things

What does the ongoing debate over the hobbit mean for palaeoanthropology and the study of man’s ancestor’s as a whole? William Moore sums up to ongoing debate and directions future research might take.

“Hobbits” of Flores: Implications for the pattern of human evolution
World Socialist Web Site, 16 February 2009

The controversy over the taxonomic and evolutionary status of the Flores hobbits provides a good example of the dialectical process whereby advances in scientific knowledge are achieved. Both major camps in this controversy (i.e., those who view the hobbits as a new species and those who think they are deformed modern humans) base themselves on modern evolutionary theory. The debate is not over whether other hominin species have existed, but how these particular specimens should be interpreted within the framework of human evolution.

While individual researchers’ viewpoints may be motivated by a variety of factors, one important component in the division between the two camps is their differing underlying assumptions regarding whether hominin evolution has tended toward a unilineal or multilineal pattern. The significance of the hobbit controversy is that if these individuals were indeed members of a previously unknown species, it would imply that hominin evolution has followed the multilineal pattern to an even greater degree than has generally been thought by its proponents. Resolution of the “hobbit question” is likely to significantly influence how the majority of researchers in the field conceptualize human evolution and, therefore, impact the direction of investigations for decades to come.


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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.

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