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Hobbit: New news is good news

by

Published: 25 August 2006(GMT+10)

Image from Peter Brown/Nature

Florens sapiens

The Hobbit skull compared to a normal modern one.

A tiny human fossil find on the Indonesian island of Flores set the world of evolutionary paleoanthropology alight in 2004. Most evolutionists claimed that this 1m-tall individual, with a grapefruit-sized brain, represented a ‘new species of human’. Some even insisted that it was more akin to the australopithecines, a theme picked up by some creationists.1 The species name Homo floresiensis has become widely known, but more so the nickname ‘The Hobbit’.

Before highlighting the new paper which has been featured in newspapers across the world, here is a brief recap:

CMI published several web articles on this find (the latest one together with guest columnist Jay Seegert of the Milwaukee Creation Science Society) which made the following points among others:

Soggy Dwarf Bones (28 Oct 2004):

“ The skeletal remains do not represent a new species, but some of the ancestors of modern human pygmies who live on the island today. ”
  • Hobbit bones damp, soft, unfossilized, but ‘dated’ at c. 18,000 years
  • Tools in vicinity ‘dated’ to 800,000 years
  • Seafaring skills were needed to get to island in the first place
  • Hobbit possibly an example of ‘island dwarfing’ as seen in other creatures
  • Probably dwarf Homo erectus, which we have long said is part of the range of human variation (and which even some evolutionists have said should be renamed Homo sapiens).

Hobbling the Hobbit (8 Nov 2004):

  • Indonesian scientists claim it is a modern human that lived <2,000 years ago
  • They referred to modern pygmies that lived across the Indonesian archipelago, like the little-known ‘negritos’ of Australia.
  • Anatomist Professor Maciej Henneberg believes that it is a microcephalic (i.e. diseased) modern human—such specimens can have smaller stature as a side-effect.

Hobbit Bone Wars (28 Feb 2005):

  • Controversy rages, but whether pygmy erectus or microcephalic modern type, it’s all part of the range of variation within the human kind.

It’s getting hobbit-forming—the ongoing attempts to deny humanity’s special creation
(5 May 2005):

  • Evolutionists generally prefer to call it a new species due to their commitment to the paradigm
  • A group of pygmies were discovered living in the vicinity
  • The jury is still out on whether the individual was a pygmy (whether or not a pathological specimen of a modern human, or a pygmy erectus), but both are compatible with Genesis history.

The ‘microcephalic’ view was furiously attacked by a number of evolutionists.

On 22 June 2006 we published a detailed, more technical analysis by our colleague, ‘ape-man’ researcher and brain scientist Dr Peter Line , who frequently contributes to the Journal of Creation (formerly called TJ).

In this article, titled The Hobbit: Precious fossil or poisoned chalice?, Dr Line includes an explanation as to why suggestions of australopithecine status are highly unlikely, and overall is strongly supportive of the ‘microcephalic’ (i.e. diseased human) viewpoint. The last sentence of the summary of this article stated:

‘…the Hobbit looks decreasingly like a diminutive character in JRR Tolkien’s novels, and increasingly like a case study in human pathology.’

The latest findings

News is circulating that the August 22, 2006 issue of Proceedings of the [US] National Academy of Sciences (one of the world’s most prestigious—and resoundingly evolutionary—scientific bodies) has published a paper that concludes that the original evaluation of the remains was flawed. The report stated, ‘The skeletal remains do not represent a new species, but some of the ancestors of modern human pygmies who live on the island today.’2 This may be referring to reports of a community of ‘pygmy Negritos’ living less than a mile away from the site—see this web reference.

In particular, it stated that the characteristics of the Hobbit ‘are not primitive but instead regional and are not unique but found in other modern human populations.’

The research team included Penn State professor Robert Eckhardt, who criticized the original study because it used European comparisons, rather than comparing the Hobbit ‘to humans from the same region’.

“ The characteristics of the Hobbit are not primitive but instead regional and are not unique but found in other modern human populations. ”

The idea of a ‘new species’ is far more satisfying for evolution’s true believers than the notion of a diseased person. Human evolution expert (and renowned anticreationist campaigner and Skeptics member) Colin Groves, of the Australian National University, was reported as having, in his public lectures, specifically scoffed at the notion that the Hobbit could be a pathological individual—singling out the CMI articles in particular. Along with those who conducted the original Hobbit research, Groves is apparently very displeased with the PNAS study, as he has an article due out for the Journal of Human Evolution3 that strongly criticizes the ‘pathology’ view.4

In summary, it is now even more likely that this is a diseased modern human, rather than a dwarfed erectus. But as our ‘hobbit-forming’ article of 5 May 2005 indicated, either conclusion would make little difference to the obvious conclusion that the ‘Hobbit’ remains were those of a fully human descendant of Adam.


Addendum

More shots in the hobbit wars

Update inserted 5 October 2006

Not surprisingly, perhaps, a Journal of Human Evolution article has now come out with an alternative analysis to that cited here, claiming that the hobbit deserves to be classified as a different species, after all—Homo floresiensis. See Homo floresiensis: Microcephalic, pygmoid, Australopithecus, or Homo?, D. Argue et al. J. Hum. Evol. 51, 360–374; 2006.

The analysis was done at the Australian National University (ANU), site of a longstanding feud between two paleoanthropologists. One of them is Dr Colin Groves, who has long favoured the 'out of Africa' or evolutionary school of thought (associated with the notion of 'mitochondrial Eve' and the 'replacement hypothesis', the idea that as modern humans swept out of Africa in the last few kya, they totally replaced, even wiped out, more 'archaic' populations). The other is Dr Alan Thorne, now retired from the ANU, but one who favours the competing hypothesis of 'multiregionalism' (like Dr Milford Wolpoff, of the University of Michigan).

It looks like the feud is set to continue in 'hobbit territory'. Thorne is one of the authors of the study cited in the main article here, that concluded that the hobbit was a deformed pygmy; Groves was one of the authors of the study cited here that said the opposite. Stay tuned!

References and notes

  1. E.g. John Mackay, Evidence News (newsletter), 4 May 2005. Return to text.
  2. Indon hobbit was ‘disabled caveman’, 20 August 2006. Return to text.
  3. Paper reignites hobbit debate, 22 August 2006. Return to text.
  4. As a defender of the ‘out of Africa’ or ‘replacement’ hypothesis of modern human origins, Groves’ chagrin at the PNAS paper may be heightened by the fact that one of its co-authors is Alan Thorne, retired from the same university as Groves and a long-standing proponent of the alternate evolutionist view, the multi-regional hypothesis. Return to text.

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