The Hobbits Found on Flores Weren’t Humans

This dramatic news item appeared in The New York Times a week ago: according to a new study, the “hobbits” found in 2003 on the Indonesian island of Flores were almost certainly not human beings:

[T]he [new] findings complemented earlier research led by Dean Falk, an anthropologist at Florida State University who specializes in brain evolution. They used CT scans to create internal casts showing the shape of the brain from the impression it left on the inner surface of the skull. They concluded that the hobbit was a new species closely related to H. erectus and was not a human that had microcephaly.

In other words, just 30,000 years ago, the Earth possessed at least three distinct erect-walking apes: Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and hobbits (H. floresiensis). Here’s a bit more from the NYT:

The H. floresiensis fossils were found in 2003, buried in sediments in a wide-mouth cave known as Liang Bua. From that name came the LB1 label for the single cranium, which is no bigger than a grapefruit. The size suggests that the brain was less than one-third the size of a human’s. From other skeletal remains of eight individuals, the hobbits stood not much more than three feet tall, walked upright and were anatomically more primitive than H. sapiens.

Commenting on the new findings, University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne writes the following:

[T]he three-foot “hobbit” human whose remains were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, has now been designated as a real species truly distinct from H. sapiens.  This species lived fairly recently—38,000-12,000 years ago, when modern humans were already colonizing the New World—but is very distinct from H. sapiens.  Because of its size and the resemblance of the skull to those seen in certain human diseases (hypothyroidism, microcephaly, etc.), some scientists speculated that this was not a tiny archaic species living at the same time as modern humans, but simply a single pathological individual of H. sapiens.

A new analysis by Baab et al. […] suggest however, that this really was a tiny hominin species.

Would somebody please tell me again how it is coherent, in the light of 21st century scientific discoveries, to be a young Earth biblical literalist? Were there Neanderthals and hobbits on Noah’s ark?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to The Hobbits Found on Flores Weren’t Humans

  1. Staffan says:

    Since you read The Righteous Mind, you should know the purpose of believing it is not to explore reality but to create social cohesion. If you somehow managed to convince them that this is false they would probably just switch to some other dogma. Or you might actually destroy some of the little social capital that America still has left. Just for the pleasure of being right?

    • Longtooth says:

      Social cohesion, is that what the Intelligent Design and Biblical Literalist movements provide? It seems like they are more about social divisiveness at the expense of sound and viable society, secular or otherwise. It would appear to me that the evangelical community has but one agenda, seize control of the educational and civil authority by any means necessary and subject the nation to their religious dogmas, no matter how fanciful. That’s social cohesion dictated by a selfish minority at the expense of the many. If the integrity of science education and the nation’s collective IQ are a casualties (as they surly would be), who’s to care? The “Divinely inspired” commission of enslavement would be fulfilled. The biblical cronies would rule the roost in the name of their archaic deity and everything would be all good, right? History and the perverse state of theocracy dominated life in the Middle East say differently. Using “social cohesion” as a pretense to justify the biblical literalist movement is disingenuous. Religiously speaking, all that stands to be lost anytime in the near future are the fundamentalist churches and good riddance that would be. If religion or one of its sectarian persuasions cannot retool itself in reasonable conformance to the cumulative knowledge of the ages, it does not deserve to stand.

      As to the matter of social capitol, do you really believe the literalist movement, which is mostly confined to America, is viewed favorably elsewhere? The rest of the Western World see’s America as bonkers because the literalist/evangelical anti science stuff going on over here. If any social capitol is being gained at all, it’s to the benefit of America’s detractors.

      • Staffan says:

        America has always been at the forefront in science and technology. Religious groups have not changed that and are hardly a bigger threat today than in previous decades. If you worry about the national IQ consider that California thanks to mass immigration is down at 95 – there is your real threat to science.

        Social capital is not only the bridging capital between groups but the bonding dito within them. But yes, I think America is viewed as favorable by the rest of the Western countries. Everyone thinks of America as an ally. Sure there are some religous nutjobs but there is plenty of everything in America but it’s my impression that the objections are to be found in America’s military policies, not their religious groups. We have plenty of Muslims here in Europe who want sharia – thought of as a blessed diversity by many a science friendly liberal here – so your evangelicals, some of whom are even gay friendly, don’t seem like a big deal.

  2. Mikels Skele says:

    Social cohesion! I love it! The middle east, full of believers, is boiling over with it.

    • Staffan says:

      Social cohesion is a necessary but not sufficient condition for peace and stability. There is in fact plenty of social cohesion in the Middle East in the form of clans. But they don’t create cohesion on the national level. Religion may have evolved more strongly there to create some cohesion above the clan level. That’s not to say they have overcomed it but that it would be even worse if the nations in the region became more secular.

  3. Staffan says:

    Correction: I meant to say “it could be even worse”.

  4. Staffan says:

    “So you say. I have seen no proof of it.”
    Of what exactly – social cohesion within clans, the failure to establish cohesion on the national level? You’ll find plenty of evidence for the first two statements in book on anthropology or just by reading the news. Or that they would be worse off as secular? Clearly I was speculating since the only proof is if they actually try to establish secular states. But without religion there would be no common denominator at all, and it seems likely that would enable even worse cruelties than we see today.

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