Another Homo Floresiensis book review

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07 July 2007 (American Scientist) – Another book review of “A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia” by Mike Morwood and Penny van Oosterzee. This review is longer than the previous one feature here, although I don’t think I’m planning to read the book anytime soon.

Choosing One’s Relatives

The discovery of a new hominin species in human ancestry is always exciting, never more so than when it is completely unexpected. And certainly no one anticipated that the fossil remains of such a species would be found in 2003 in Liang Bua, a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. But that year a team of archaeologists, anthropologists and geologists from Australia and Indonesia working at Liang Bua uncovered the bonesof a tiny woman, whom they eventually concluded was a hominin of a new species, Homo floresiensis. That bold claim has ignited considerable controversy among paleo-anthropologists.

Now one of the members of the team that found the specimen, Mike Morwood, has written a book titled A New Human, with science writer Penny van Oosterzee as coauthor. Their fascinating account of how the large-scale, multidisciplinary excavation was set up and run shows just how such an investigation should be conducted. They cover everything: the preliminary groundwork to find out who has to be approached to get permissions, with all the politics and administrative matters that are an unavoidable adjunct to such forms of scientific inquiry; the actual business of excavation and the dating of the deposit; and finally, the process of publishing a description of the fossils and their context. Anyone thinking of undertaking such a project would do well to consult this book.

Read the full review of “A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia” from American Scientist.

More books about Homo floresiensis, aka The Hobbit:
A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia by M. Morwood and P. van Oosterzee
Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg

New book on the Flores hominid

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23 May 2007 (stuff.co.nz) – A book review on the latest book about the Flores Hominid, also nicknamed the Hobbit, written by Mike Morwood, one of the archaeologists who discovered the remarkable find in 2003.

The discovery of the Hobbit

The Discovery of the Hobbit – Mike Morwood and Penny Van Oosterzee

Long after homo sapiens invented art, porn and sailing, another kind of human scampered about in Indonesian forests.

We know this because a team led by one of the writers of this fascinating book, Australian archaeologist Mike Morwood, discovered the creature’s skeleton in 2003, in a cave on the remote island of Flores.

Since then, bones belonging to at least eight more individuals have been found, ranging in age from 95,000 to 12,000 years old. Our own species has been alive for at least 100,000 years, in case you were wondering.

This theory has not gone away, despite Morwood’s team finding more tiny individuals separated widely in time. He is not the only one to point out that it seems unlikely a race of imbeciles could survive so long on an island swarming with meat-eating lizards three times bigger than they were, although he needs to find another skull to prove his point.

A few of the proponents of the microcephalic theory have axes to grind and Jacob is accused, sensationally, of grabbing then damaging the hobbits’ bones. The fog of war has been compounded by Indonesian v Australian politico- cultural complexities and newspapers that have given equal time to every theory, whether it met the test of peer review or not.

This book is timely. It clarifies events which have been glossed over in other media, including damage done to the only extant hobbit skull, a jawbone and a pelvis. Although neither Morwood nor fellow writer Penny Van Oosterzee could be confused with Tolstoy, the book is intelligent, pacey and evocative.

Read the full review of The Discovery of the Hobbit here.

Some other books about the Flores hominid you might be interested in:
A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia by M. Morwood and P. van Oosterzee
Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg

Small skull, huge controversy

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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.

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

Hobbit Debate Turns Nasty

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22 August 2006 (ABC News in Science) – A follow up from the previous press release describing the Hobbit debate. Am still waiting for the article to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (delay probably due to time difference).

Hobbit Debate Turns Nasty

A new paper has inflamed the debate over the hobbit’s origins, with one researcher criticising the scientific journal that published the research.

A paper in today’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) is the second this year to conclude that the hobbit is just a sick human.

Indonesian researcher Professor Teuku Jacob, from Gadjah Mada University, and an international team argue that the hobbit is a microcephalic pygmy rather than a new species of hominid.


Related Books:
A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia by M. Morwood and P. van Oosterzee
Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg