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Scientists Hope To Settle "Hobbit" Debate 164

Posted by kdawson
from the little-men dept.
Several readers wrote in with news of the debate around the identity of an ancient woman whose diminutive skeleton was found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004. Fox News reports that Australian scientists have discovered a subterranean chamber that may contain DNA proof that will settle the question of whether "the Hobbit," as the specimen is called, actually is a representative of a new branch of the human family, or not. The find's discoverers named the putative new race Homo floresiensis. Others in the anthropological field question this identification, arguing that the meter-tall Hobbit was a modern human who had something wrong with her. In a paper just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with one of the original discovery team as co-author, researchers say they have compared the Hobbit's skull to those of modern humans with various ailments such as microcephaly, and that the Hobbit is different.
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Scientists Hope To Settle "Hobbit" Debate

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  • by racecarj (703239) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @12:51AM (#17809912)
    Another one of Tolkien's races has been discovered: Trolls, it seems, are native to the slashdot community.
    • by andy314159pi (787550) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @01:04AM (#17810024) Journal
      Hobbits suffer from microcephaly but Trolls suffer from microphallus, which is quite different.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by jfclavette (961511)
        Why the hell is this modded informative ?
      • Re: Trolls too... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @02:07AM (#17810386)
        > Hobbits suffer from microcephaly but Trolls suffer from microphallus, which is quite different.

        Is that the syndrome that makes guys buy humongous pickup trucks and drive 20mph faster than the flow of traffic?
      • The condition of having a "microphallus" would be "microphallusy," no?

        With different spelling, it would also indicate the sort of "little deception" that sufferers of this disorder might use when discussing matters of size.

        --jrd

    • by mfh (56)
      When I first read this I thought it was about the next Hobbit film, and how Jackson was acquitted of all charges.
    • Well, I kind of wonder, though. Was it really a hobbit, or was it more like a halfling? What if it was a tall gnome, for that matter? Especially with all those tools around, it sure sounds like a (stone age) gnome engineer to me.

      Or, *shudder*, what if it was an ewok?
  • by Frogbert (589961) <frogbertNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @12:53AM (#17809926)
    Now they will have to find what came between Homo Sapian and Homo Floresiensis. /ducks for cover.
    • Now they will have to find what came between Homo Sapian and Homo Floresiensis.

      The dwarves, of course.

      Well, think about it. On one hand you have 6 ft tall humans, then you have 3 ft halflings. Now picture something half-way in between as height goes, and about as broad as a human. Right. It's a dwarf. Don't tell me that a species could have just jumped between extremes without hitting the points in the middle. That's not how evolution works. There has to be some grand hall under a mountain with skeletons t

  • hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @12:59AM (#17809976) Homepage
    Others in the anthropological field question this identification, arguing that the meter-tall Hobbit was a modern human who had something wrong with her.

    Maybe she just hobbitually ate a poor diet.
  • Me being cynical (Score:4, Insightful)

    by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @01:03AM (#17810012) Journal
    Others in the anthropological field question this identification, arguing that the meter-tall Hobbit was a modern human who had something wrong with her.

    Right -- they're the ones that don't get the publicity or funding. Come on, how boring is that -- that the meter-tall body was just an abnormal human? Wouldn't it be so much *cooler* if there were a whole race of these!
    • by GMontag (42283)
      I am going with the "just a short person" theory too. Early polling indicates that we may be in the minority on this topic. Better keep my regular job.
    • by LordLucless (582312) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @02:28AM (#17810488)
      Come on, how boring is that -- that the meter-tall body was just an abnormal human? Wouldn't it be so much *cooler* if there were a whole race of these!

      Yeah, unfortunately science is decided based on empirical observation, not whose theory is cooler.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @03:24AM (#17810804)
      Y'know, instead of snarking you might actually considering reading the articles, including the paper detailing the "hobbits". There are some very, very good reasons to think that this is a new form of human. For one, there are multiple specimens - not just one. For another, as detailed in the summary, the structures don't mimic other forms of dwarfism in modern humans. Island dwarfism has been observed in many different species - there really isn't any reason to think humans should be exempt from this.

      Most notably, a few of those arguing against it have tended to do so for religious, and not scientific reasons, which is always a huge warning sign that their opinions should be treated with caution.

      Skepticism is a good trait to have - but when you are irrationally skeptical to the available evidence, to the point of closemindedness than you are no better than somebody who is overly gullible.

      For a relatively balanced opinion on the debate surrounding LB1, you could go to wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_floresiensis). Perhaps after reading that, you could reserve the snark and unwarranted insult of the investigating scientists, and actually learn a little about how science is conducted.
      • Just to play the devil's advocate, how about taking your own advice? Get some clue to what the actual objections are, before you paint it all as closemindedness and religion?

        The question is _not_ whether dwarfism could possibly exist. So let's move on from that ridiculous straw-man. Yes, we know that evolution can produce larger or smaller versions. You only need to look at a jaguar and at your house cat to know the same species can evolve in both directions.

        The question is whether such a small-brained spec
    • by mrbooze (49713)
      You're right the head Primatologist of the Field Museum of Chicago just can't seem to get any publicity, except for the globally-published news articles where he disputes the new species conclusion. Poor guy. If only the Field Museum wasn't such a poor fly-by-night operation.
  • Teh Effin Summary (Score:4, Informative)

    by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @01:03AM (#17810014)
    For whatever reason, the summary links to page two of the article. Page one is here [reuters.com]
  • by Rodyland (947093) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @01:16AM (#17810082)
    I don't know about anyone else, but I've been waiting since the discovery was first announced for a definitive answer on this matter.

    If this represents a new species of human, and given how recently this species is shown to have lived, then whole textbooks on the subject will likely need rewriting. I find it quite exciting, and I'm not even an anthropologist.

    As an aside, I'm also quite interested to see what the bible-thumpers eventually come to make of all of this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by and ladders (986311)
      "As an aside, I'm also quite interested to see what the bible-thumpers eventually come to make of all of this." Bible thumpers will make of it what they make of every instance of evolution: God's hand at work. A 3 foot (or whatever it is) tall homonid isn't going to change their minds, given that there are many examples of evolution right in front of their eyes that they refuse to accept.
      • by ozbird (127571)
        Bible thumpers will make of it what they make of every instance of evolution: God's hand at work.

        More like God's foot, Monty Python-style.
      • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @02:11AM (#17810428)
        > "As an aside, I'm also quite interested to see what the bible-thumpers eventually come to make of all of this." Bible thumpers will make of it what they make of every instance of evolution: God's hand at work. A 3 foot (or whatever it is) tall homonid isn't going to change their minds, given that there are many examples of evolution right in front of their eyes that they refuse to accept.

        Actually, lots of them already dismiss Neanderthals and older species as humans with arthritus. Some make the blanket claim that the whole lineage represents just two species, cleanly divided into humans and apes.

        I was amused to hear an anthropologist offer the same argument against this specimen...
        • Hmm. Two species you write. Does this mean that chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans are considered one species (of course I am leaving out the south american primates) and all species of Homo the second.

          Haven't seen this hypothesis in too many scientific publications. Perhaps you would be willing to offer references to this classification?
        • by sumdumass (711423)
          You could make the same or very simular claims and not even be on a religious quest. Ever heard of the buble theory and the evolution path it follows? It is a science oriented form of evolution not some so called wacked out creationist belief either.

          The current popular theory isn't the only one out there. And it isn't a definate fact of anything, it is a theory. It could be wrong even if just to some degree.
        • by plunge (27239)
          The funny part is that they cannot all agree on which species are full humans and which are full apes... thus proving the point that we already have a pretty definitive gradient transition.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hucko (998827)
        You do know that 'argument' can be slightly modified and the only true difference would be a few nouns and academic acceptance.

        I have heard it used so it is not that remote an idea...

        Evolutionists will make of it what they make of every instance of God's Hand at work: Evolution. A suddenly appearing, fully developed oganism isn't going to change their minds, given that there are many examples of God's Hand at work right in front of their eyes that they refuse to accept

        FTA "But the other strong possibility is that this is actually just a pathological modern human," Martin added."
        Shall we wait for further study?

        • Good try, but I made no reference (nor did the article) to "A suddenly appearing, fully developed oganism." What we are discussing here is a (slightly) modified hominid, with a shorter stature (among other attributes). I did not use the word "argument" either.
      • There is line in the bible that says something like "There were midgets in the earth in those days" I am sure of it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sorak (246725)

        "As an aside, I'm also quite interested to see what the bible-thumpers eventually come to make of all of this." Bible thumpers will make of it what they make of every instance of evolution: God's hand at work. A 3 foot (or whatever it is) tall homonid isn't going to change their minds, given that there are many examples of evolution right in front of their eyes that they refuse to accept.

        Well, one of the more the mainstream evangelical views (among people not yelling at each other on news networks) is tha

        • by evilviper (135110)

          Someone else posted that if "The Hobbit" is a missing link, then we just have to find the next missing link. Good call. That's exactly what many mainstream evangelicals will claim. They will say "that's nice. You did all your laboratory hoopajoob and said that he's similar, but how do you know he evolved into us? Well, prove it by finding the missing link between him and us."

          The only thing worse than irrational bible-thumping christians, is ignorant, know-it-all atheists.

          All evidence indicates "he" didn't

          • by sorak (246725)

            All evidence indicates "he" didn't evolve "into us". If anything, it was the opposite.

            Well, thank you for providing a dignified response. You're just pissed off at the world aren't you? You should really calm down. relax, go to the park, feed some ducks, avoid the temptation to call them all "retards", and then go home. You'll feel a little better.

            And, yes, you are right about one thing. I did get my facts wrong. "He", "she" or "it" is suspected to have evolved from "us". I'm sure evangelicals wouldn't

      • Why should they have any problems with this?

        If David was one of these, then the giant he fought could have been a "normal" human.

        But then, that would mean the Bible was written by/for these little guys, and has nothing to do with us...
    • > I don't know about anyone else, but I've been waiting since the discovery was first announced for a definitive answer on this matter.

      Unless one side has just been sandbagging -- i.e., if there's actually good reason for the uncertainty -- it's doubtful that a single publication will provide a definitive answer.
    • by edwardpickman (965122) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @03:02AM (#17810686)
      There really isn't much debate about it. There's dogma about only Homo Sapeins surviving past the Neaderthal extinction then the facts on the other side. The skull looks exactly like a Homo Erectus including the brain case. There are no Homo Sapein skulls no matter how diseased that match it. The brain case scans were the smoking gun. The only thing different from Homo Erectus is the size. She's well below the size range for an adult Erectus so there was a form of downsizing involved since it's unlikely she's an off shoot she's most likely a decendant of Homo Erectus. The fact all the other bones in the cave were of the same size and represent several indiviuals should put to rest it was a disease. I tend to doubt they had a leper colony for individuals with that disease. Her brain size is also proportionally small for an Erectus but the structures are all correct just smaller. It's probably a result of a poor diet that lead to the downsizing. There's resistence to changing the history of hominids but outside of dogma the test thus far have left little doubt the skeleton is not Homo Sapein and most likely a downsized Erectus.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by and ladders (986311)
        Please stop posting. You are clouding a good, emotional debate with facts. Mind you, this is /. and we have no interest in facts, just emotional responses to TFA.
      • Then there is the strange behaviour of one Dr Jacob who commendered the bones on behalf of the Indonesian state, cut off access to them by other scientists (including the discoverers), published his own ideas, and refused to allow digging to continue.

        I understand the Indonesians want control over their own heritige and they are certainly entitled to it, but if it were not for this one man's apparent desire to dictate the conclusion we would have more data and less dogma.

        "The fact all the other bones i
  • 1. Was she found with lots of food, ale and smokes around her? 2. Was she wearing a ring? 3. Was she found near some place no one can pronounce, but that was surrounded by avalanching mountains and moving forests? 4. Was she found looking longingly into another female hobbit's eyes for uncomfortably long periods of time?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Torvaun (1040898)

      2. Was she wearing a ring?
      Of course not. If she was, they wouldn't have found her.
  • by iminplaya (723125) <iminplaya.gmail@com> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @01:23AM (#17810136) Journal
    Paul Verhoeven

    Kevin Smith

    George Lucas

    Allan Parker

    Steven Spielberg

    Ridley Scott

    Beorn(who?)

    or CowboyNeal?
  • Is it just me (Score:3, Interesting)

    by and ladders (986311) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @01:55AM (#17810328)
    or does anyone else find it striking that Foxnews.com has an "Evolution and Paleontology Center" (http://www.foxnews.com/science/evolution/). Certainly, W doesn't approve of this.
    • What W doesn't know won't hurt him. Besides, he would be delighted to know that Fox is laying bait for all the non-believers. Their day will come, friend. Their day will come.
    • by 1u3hr (530656)
      I knew it was Fox when they talked about "obtaining a CSI-style DNA profile of the three-foot-tall creatures..."
  • Hmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SinGunner (911891) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @02:57AM (#17810652)
    Wouldn't it be interesting if we hadn't likely killed off all these competitors in prehistory and some were left around. What kind of rights would neanderthals get? Surely they wouldn't be treated like animals. And if they were still around, I think religion would be a very different thing.
    • Oh please, because you assume that europeans and their descendants wouldn't consider neanderthals just one rung below Africans or Native Americans? Just one more race in need of "civilization." Organized religion has no problems with hierarchy.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:32AM (#17811114) Homepage Journal

      In relating to another species or race humans will do one of the following:

      1. Eradicate
      2. Domesticate/enslave

      Given that white people like me only started taking black people seriously about 50 years ago I can only assume that the neanderthals would be considered a sub-human slave species like cattle, dogs, etc.

      Perhaps we wiped them out because they were too smart to be enslaved with the technology of the time.

      • by drsquare (530038)

        I can only assume that the neanderthals would be considered a sub-human slave species like cattle, dogs, etc.
        Correct, these hobbits would make awesome pets. Not only could they play with the kids, they could do housework and gardening.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by steelfood (895457)
        Eradication is a natural consequence of resource competition. The difference between other animals and humans/humanoids is that we are genetically coded to have a high ability to adapt. While most animals adapt on a timescale spanning multiple generations, we adapt to the changing environment within our lifetimes. Thus, we were able to out-adapt our competition, using up the resources they also need and thus eradicating them.

        Subjugation was what created society in the first place. Domestication of plants is
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      What kind of rights would neanderthals get?

      All we know for sure is that they would be eligible to hold the office of president of the United States of America.

    • by aztektum (170569)
      You know what would really be interesting is if that Geico commercial with the cavemen had used a hobbit instead and then "Tada!" we found hobbitses.
  • by Mikenotmike (956042) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @03:07AM (#17810720)
    National Geographic had a whole hour long special on this subject that I watched about 4 or 5 months ago. As the article below states, there was MORE than one set of bones found, while the girl mentioned in today's articles was the only COMPLETE skeleton, there was several other partial bone sets recovered that were equally comparable in size. Also in the documentary they rebuilt the skull and sent it to several specialists, who confirmed that it was in fact not a case of microcephallis. So todays articles seem like old news, AND they're confusing everyone by not mentioning the other bone sets recovered on site. What I haven't seen anyone address is whether they could have been premordial dwarfs... but considering how few of those there are in the world, the likelyhood of several being found in the save small island seems rare, but not unpossible. ~Mentions multiple skeletons... http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/10/10 27_041027_homo_floresiensis.html [nationalgeographic.com] and the video description http://www3.nationalgeographic.com/channel/blog/20 05/03/explorer_hobbit.html [nationalgeographic.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Nurseferatu (946800)
      Actually one form of dwarfism is the result of a genetic mutation and can be inherited. This would make a family of small people a possibility, possibly shunned by the larger group and left on their own. But this would be pretty easy to distinguish due to the distinctive formation of bones that occurs as these children grow.
      • But no one ever seems to mention it, premodrial dwarfism is one of the rarest types, most distinguishable in that the dwarfs are actually virtually completely proportionate, like the skeletons found. I'd seem them before but my sudden rush of knowledge comes from the discovery channel special I saw on them last night, they too were compared to microcephallics and said to not be the same. I would think they would have at least been considered and ruled out, but being such an obvious possibility, why doesn't
        • by ashooner (834246)
          The specimen found is not 'completely proportionate.' I seem to remember it being described as having no chin.
          • They also had unproportionally long legs for their body size. Ever see a midget with long legs? Except for Arnold Schwarzenegger that is.
  • ...Australian scientists have discovered a subterranean chamber...

    Did it have a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny brass knob in the exact middle?

  • New Species (Score:3, Informative)

    by Aneurysm (680045) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @04:40AM (#17811144)
    According to this [bbc.co.uk] news article from the BBC, it does appear to be a new species. This was posted yesterday and the study compares modern microencephalics skulls with the skulls found on Flores.
  • The real cause of the extinction of the hobbit is New Line Cinema.
  • by The Fun Guy (21791) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:01AM (#17812354) Homepage Journal
    Ok, they knew as soon as they saw this subterranean chamber that it was a hobbit hole, because it wasn't a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat.

    QED.
  • What would worry me would be the possibility of other denizens of Tolkiens world, especially "immortal" creatures like dragons and balrogs. All it would take is one mining expedition gone wrong and....
  • We also know now that the one ring [wikipedia.org] also exists, too. Unfortunately, it was never destroyed, as the story goes,... the current ringbearer occupies the Oval Office [wookimus.net].

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