Hobbit-Like Human Remains Returned to Their Finders

George Stuteville
National Geographic Magazine
for National Geographic News
May 23, 2005

For at least 13,000 years the bones of a miniature, female, human creature lay in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores along with the simple tools she may have used. She was undisturbed by natural forces.

It's been only months since she was introduced to the world as a new species of hominid, setting off scientific acclaim and acrimonious controversy. (Hominids include humans and extinct ancestral and related species.)

And now, some of the fragile skeletal remains that were in the custody of scientists not connected to the expedition have been returned to the finders. On their return, the remains were severely damaged, with slice marks from a sharp object, cracks in the pelvis, and two teeth that appeared to have been glued into place.

"Some of the most important items are irretrievably damaged," said Mike Morwood, a co-leader of the Australian and Indonesian archaeological team that found the remains.

Officially named Homo floresiensis, the specimen was no taller than a three-year-old modern human, which led rsearchers to call her species hobbits, after the tiny creatures from the Lord of the Rings novels.

Though partial remains of seven other "hobbits" have since been found, the first skeleton, including the skull, was of a female who died when she was around 30 years old. Standing at just about a meter (3.3 feet) tall, she would have weighed about 25 kilograms (55 pounds).

Paleoanthropologists used the dimensions and contours of the skull to reconstruct her face. Their reconstruction is similar to that on the cover of the April issue of National Geographic. An entire 3-D model can be found seen at National Geographic magazine online.

Almost immediately after the October 2004 announcement, some paleoanthropologists questioned whether the find represents a new species.

Indonesia's preeminent authority of paleoanthropology, Teuku Jacob, professor emeritus at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, theorized that the remains were likely to be those of a modern human dwarf with a birth defect called microcephaly, in which a person has an abnormally small brain. Others contended that the creatures, if indeed it was a hominid, was related to pygmies.

The original finders and researchers, in announcing their discovery in the October 28, 2004, issue of the science journal Nature, contended that what they had found in the hobbit was a wholly unanticipated, extinct member of the human family.

The conflicting views reflect the widely divergent theories of human evolution among paleoanthropologists and archaeologists.

Multiregionalists such as the 75-year-old Jacob say that evolution progressed in various regions of the world along a single line to produce modern Homo sapiens.

Continued on Next Page >>




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