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Hobbit Heresy

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

“The existence of Mini-Man should destroy religion”—Anthropologist Desmond Morris, speaking of the new “Hobbit Man.”

INTRODUCTION

Science staff-writer Jeffrey Mervis described the scientist as “the undisputed king of paleoanthropology in a country rich in early hominid fossils” (1998, 279:1482). The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named his excavation project in Sangiran as a “world heritage site essential to the understanding of human evolution.” In 1983, he received the Paul Broca Medal from the French Center for Scientific Research for his work in the field of anthropology. On August 15, 2002, he received the Bintang Mahaputra Naraya award from the Indonesian government in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the country’s cultural promotion. Now, this eminent specialist in the field of paleontology, Dr. Teuku Jacob, has something to say about the “latest and greatest” fossil discovery known as “Hobbit Man.” But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, a brief “current events” lesson is in order.

THE HOOPLA OVER THE DISCOVERY OF “HOBBIT MAN”

The discovery of “Hobbit Man” has been given top billing by all the major media outlets (e.g., Time, Newsweek, CNN, etc.), and, not coincidentally (considering all the pomp and flair we are now accustomed to seeing each time another alleged missing link in human evolution is put forth), it has been described as one of the most dramatic discoveries of this century. The “big news” revolves around the size of the creature and the purported age of its bones.

The October 28, 2004 issue of Nature contained two research papers announcing, as a result of this find, yet another branch on the alleged evolutionary “hominid tree of life” (see Brown, et al., 2004; Morwood, et al., 2004). These two reports were accompanied by additional articles in the same issue from scientists who were offering their evolutionary spin on the data (see Dalton, 2004; Lahr and Foley, 2004). The new find was given the name Homo floresiensis (named after the Flores Island in present-day Indonesia, where the discovery of the fossils occurred). The bones were recovered from a cave at Liang Bua, at a depth of approximately seven meters. A team of Australian and Indonesian researchers discovered soft bones of a small body that was unlike any previous pygmy or midget Homo sapiens. As Michael Lemonick noted: “Its brain was only about the size of a grapefruit—smaller than that of a chimpanzee. ‘To think,’ says Nature senior editor Henry Gee, ‘that these creatures were evolving on their island while there were perfectly modern humans all around the place is astonishing’ ” (2004, 164[19]:51). Marta Lahr and Robert Foley speculated:

The fossils described elsewhere in this issue probably left no descendants, are not very old, and were found on a remote island. Despite this, they are among the most outstanding discoveries in paleoanthropology for half a century. The two papers concerned…describe the fossils and their archaeological context. The find is startling. It is of a pygmy-sized, small-brained hominin, which lived as recently as 18,000 years ago, and which was found on the island of Flores together with stone tools, dwarf elephants and Komodo dragons. Discoveries don’t get better than that (2004, 431:1043).

The discovery itself consisted of bones from seven individuals, including the main find (designated LB1), which the media has deemed “the Hobbit.” Lemonick continued:

What makes the discovery truly shocking is that the beings were not, like the Pygmies of equatorial Africa, just a short variety of modern Homo sapiens. Dubbed Homo floresiensis, they represent an entirely new twig on the human family tree. Until now, scientists believed that Neanderthals, who died out some 30,000 years ago, were the only human species that coexisted for any length of time with people like us. The chapter of biology textbooks that describes our family tree will have to be rewritten (2004, pp. 50-51).

Given textbook writers’ overwhelming support of evolutionary hoaxes, we suspect they are already busy at their computers, making sure future students will be taught that “Hobbit Man” was once their ancient ancestor.

IS THIS A TRUE FOSSIL?

In a single word, no. As Rex Dalton described it: “The hominin bones were not fossilized, but in a condition the team described as being like ‘mashed potatoes,’ a result of their age and the damp conditions. ‘The skeleton had the consistency of wet blotting paper, so a less experienced excavator might have trashed the find,’ says Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong, Australia” (2004, 431:1029). Two prominent Indonesian paleontologists, Teuku Jacob (professor emeritus of anthropology and chief paleontologist at Gajah Mada University) and R.P. Soejono (head of the National Archaeology Institute), said that the skeleton would not be considered a fossil, but a sub-fossil. Soejono remarked: “We would call it a fossil if everything has hardened. But we were able to find soft tissue so that we could carry out a DNA test. We couldn’t do that if it was already a fossil” (Sudiarno, 2004). According to Brown and his colleagues, the discovery consisted of a partial skeleton and fragments of bones from six other individuals (not seven complete skeletons as some news media are reporting) [Brown, et al., 2004]. The primary find (LB1), Brown admitted, was not fossilized or covered with calcium carbonate. It consisted of “a fairly complete cranium and mandible, right and left innominate (hipbone—BH). Bones of the left leg, hands and feet are less complete, while the vertebral column, sacrum, scapulae, clavicles, and ribs are only represented in fragments” (2004, 431:1055). And that is the most complete one. The LB2 remains include only a few bony fragments. Using the fact that the bones discovered were soft (and still contained DNA), Dr. Jacob said his team will “aim to prove that the skeleton is from a 25 to 30-year-old omnivorous sub-species of man, not a 30-year-old female from the new species as previously announced” (“Scientist Challenges...,” Online, 2004). Seeing as how this is not a true fossil, one should greet speculations about it with a great degree of caution.

WHY IS THIS SKELETON MORE IMPORTANT THAN OTHERS?

Likely, one of the reasons this “missing link” has become so important to evolutionists is because they are able to see the proverbial “handwriting on the wall.” Previous so-called missing links have been shown to be either wrong or fraudulent. [Interestingly, the November 2004 issue of National Geographic asked on its front cover, “Was Darwin Wrong?,” and then inside the issue, proceeded to answer “No” by offering up a defense of evolution that included outdated, erroneous material that even most evolutionists abandoned decades ago. (Our rebuttal to this pitiful attempt to bolster evolution as a “fact” is due out shortly.)] Realizing that the majority of people in this country have not “bought into” their beloved “evolutionary tree of life,” evolutionists desperately needed to find something that could inject some life into their moribund theory. Enter “Hobbit Man.”

This discovery is being viewed as important for several reasons. First, there is the age assigned to the bones by evolutionary dating methods (which we do not accept). Morwood and his colleagues observed: “Dating by radiocarbon (14C), luminescence, uranium-series, and electron spin resonance (ESR) methods indicates that H. floresiensis existed from before 38,000 years ago (kyr) until at least 18 kyr” (2004: 431:1087). However, if all of the sectors that were excavated are included, fragments date from the oldest being dated at 95,000 years ago and the youngest being dated at a mere 13,000 years ago. If true, this would mean that there were other species from the genus Homo besides sapiens, erectus, and the Neanderthals. So, scientists are left wondering just how intelligent this creature was, and how it reached the island in the first place. In addition, this poses another puzzle for evolutionists, because the stone “tools” found at the site were dated at around 800,000 years old!

Second, there is the diminutive size. Homo floresiensis is nothing like Homo erectus or the Neanderthals—a fact that presents a serious problem for evolutionists. Why would creatures on the way to “becoming” human allegedly grow a bigger brain (i.e., from apes to Neanderthals), only to then give it up again and return to a smaller brain, such as is found in this “Hobbit” species. Tim White, preeminent paleontologist of the University of California, Berkeley, suggested “Wallace (Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin—BH) and Darwin would have been delighted” (as quoted in Lemonick, p. 52). We suspect, however, that most evolutionists realize this new evolutionary tree has some serious drawbacks. In addition, not much media attention has been given to the fact that some of the bones in the find are not diminutive at all—their measurements are considered to fall within the normal range for modern humans.

Ironically, another major issue that has surfaced in this debate has to do with scientific ethics. It appears that the Australian teams rushed into print regarding this discovery, leaving the native Indonesian team out of the picture altogether. Jacob accused the Australian team of “scientific terrorism,” maintaining that Peter Brown and his colleagues were not even present during the initial discovery. He also rebuked the team for failing to consult him, and also for the timing of their announcement.

INSULAR DWARFISM

So exactly how did this creature allegedly “stray” from its larger Homo predecessor? What is the mechanism that would cause a creature to grow smaller and possess a smaller brain? Evolutionists are claiming that “island dwarfism” may have played a key role in the miniature stature of Homo floresiensis.

Island dwarfism is well known among mammals. Released from predation pressure or constrained by restricted resources, and limited by population size, the phenomenon can be dramatic. Some examples can be truly extreme—for example, the one-meter-high fossil elephants, found on Sicily and Malta, which may have become dwarfed from a 4-metre ancestor in less than 5,000 years. Indeed, remains of now-extinct primitive elephants (Stegodon), which had become dwarfed in relation to their mainland relatives, were found in the same deposits as LB1 (Lahr and Foley, 2004, 431:1044).

Insular or island dwarfs are forms of large mammals that have been isolated on islands that are relatively small compared to the normal geographic ranges of those mammals. (For an extensive listing of scientific articles documenting insular dwarfism see http://forum.lowcarber.org/archive/index.php/t-217255.html). Science has yet to identify hard and fast rules about what kinds of animals are likely to experience dwarfism when they are isolated. We know today that strange things can happen on islands, depending on the composition of the flora and fauna and the available resources. While some would argue that this provides evidence for evolution, we should bear in mind that these creatures never change species. Natural selection does occur in such instances. But creationists have long acknowledged that microevolution is a fact. Elephants, however, do not evolve into smaller cattle (or anything else) when placed on an island. We also know today that some smaller animals experience insular giantism (such as the Komodo dragon, which is a resident of Flores Island). But this hardly provides any proof for macroevolution. While island dwarfism has never been recorded in primates, it may in fact take place in a variety of animals. The evidence in the Hobbit case, however, points to an entirely different cause for short stature.

SICK SAPIENS

Teuku Jacob is not timid when it comes to his feelings about this new find. He has asserted that Homo floresiensis is “an ordinary human being, just like us” (“Scientist Challenges...,” 2004, emp. added). And he should know. Jacob is hardly a lightweight in physical anthropology. At age 75, he is, as we observed earlier, professor emeritus of anthropology and chief paleontologist at Gajah Mada University, one of the best universities in Indonesia—the same country where “Hobbit Man” was located! He studied at the University of Arizona, and did graduate work at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He has been involved in many comparative studies of alleged Homo erectus remains found in Indonesia, and even flew to New York to transport the famous Homo erectus newyorkensis back to his native country.

Having reviewed the “Hobbit” discovery, Dr. Jacob observed: “It is not a new species. It is a sub-species of Homo sapiens classified under the Austrolomelanesid race. If it’s not a new species, why should it be given a new name” (“Scientist Challenges...,” 2004, emp. added)? Reporting in the Jakarta Post, Jacob and Soejono refuted claims made that this new hobbit-sized creature would rewrite evolutionary history. Jacob declared: “The skeleton is not a new species as claimed by these scientists but simply a fossil of a modern human, Homo sapiens, that lived about 1,300 to 1,800 years ago” (“Indon Experts...,” 2004). He went on to add: “So if they [the Australian scientists making the claim—BH] say the skeleton was the ancestor of the Indonesian people, forget it.”

Dr. Jacob also is on record as stating that the heralded “new species” of human beings is nothing more than sick members of our own genus and species, Homo sapiens. He admits that the skeleton was indeed dwarf-sized, possessed a minuscule brain, and is different from common Homo sapiens. But he thinks he knows why. The Guardian Unlimited newspaper noted: “The claim—by Teuku Jacob, professor of paleoanthropology at Indonesia’s Gadjah Mada University—threatens to trigger an academic row [i.e., a noisy quarrel—BH] over the discovery of an extinct race of little hominid people” (“Hobbit Folk...,” 2004). The newspaper went on to report: “Jacob said the tiny floresiensis skull is really that of a relatively recently deceased human who suffered from microcephaly, a congenital condition in which a person is born with a very small brain.”

While British paleontologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London rejects these claims, others are beginning to see proportional consistencies with Jacob’s theory. For instance, Maciej Henneberg, Woods Jones professor of anthropological and comparative anatomy at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, not only agrees, but also gives the documentation to back up his position. He noted:

I obtained from the Nature website measurements of the Liang Bua skeleton meticulously published there by discoverers. Dimensions of the face, nose and jaws were not significantly different from those of modern humans, but the measurements of the braincase fell a long way below the normal range. The bell rang in my head. I remembered reading a report of a 4 ka old (Minoan period) skull from Crete. This skull has been identified as that of an individual with a growth anomaly called microcephaly (= small brain). This well known condition has multiple causes and affects individuals to a varying degree. Its most severe congenital form (primordial microcephalic dwarfism—PMD) leads to death in childhood. Milder forms of microcephaly allow its sufferers to survive to adulthood though they cause some level of mental retardation. My statistical comparison of 15 head and face dimensions of the Liang Bua specimen with those of the Minoan microcephalic shows that there is not a single significant difference between the two skulls though one is reputedly that of the “new species of humans”, the other a member of sophisticated culture that preceded classical Greek civilization. Deeper down in the Liang Bua cave a forearm bone, radius, was discovered. Its reported length 210 mm corresponds to stature of 151-162 cm depending on method of reconstruction. This is a stature of many modern women, and some modern men, by no means of a “dwarf ” (“Homo floresiensis,” 2004, parenthetical items in orig., emp. added).

In a personal communication with our offices on November 10, 2004, regarding this matter, Dr. Henneberg wrote:

Last Friday I telephoned Prof. Teuku Jacob at Gadjah Mada University (the best in Indonesia). He then just finished a study of original LB1 remains and independent of my opinion arrived at the same diagnosis—microcephaly in a usual Homo sapiens, not a new species. He announced his views at a press conference and they were published in English on line by Jakarta Post and picked up by Guardian/Observer in London…. I am convinced that LB1 is a microcephalic H. sapiens, and will defend this view (Henneberg, 2004, emp. added).

After detailing why he believed this was simply a case of microcephaly, Henneberg concluded: “Thus, until more skeletons of the purported ‘new species’ are discovered, I will maintain that a well-known pathological condition was responsible for the peculiar appearance of the skeleton so aptly described in Nature and that we are still a single rational species” (Henneberg, 2004, emp. added). By focusing on the anatomical measurements reported for the “Hobbit Man,” rather than the evolutionary hype, Henneberg was able to discern that this “new species” represents nothing more than individuals who suffered from a form of microcephaly.

CONCLUSION

Richard Dawkins, the devout British evolutionary biologist, still cannot understand why religion survived throughout evolutionary processes in the first place. Desmond Morris believes that if it can be documented that H. floresiensis possessed the ability to talk, then religious folks will be forced to re-examine many of their basic beliefs. Or, worse still for such folks, says Morris, the mere existence of such a “Mini-Man” should be enough to destroy religion completely.

Used by permission of Keith WindschuttleThe truth is that these men treat their atheistic beliefs as their own “religion,” and they are not opposed to making broad speculations—even before all the data are in—if it will help them defend that religion. We know today that miniature people do exist. For instance, Australian historian Keith Windschuttle published a definitive study on Australia’s short-stature tribes, referred to variously as Pygmies, Negritos, Tasmanoids, and Barrineans. Included in his study was a picture of Joseph Birdsell [height, 186 centimeters (six feet one inch)], compared with a twenty-four-year-old male of the Kongkandji tribe [height, 140 centimeters (four feet six inches); see accompanying picture, used by permission of Keith Windschuttle]. [For more information on pygmies see: “The extinction of the Australian pygmies” written by Keith Windschuttle and Tim Gillin at www.sydneyline.com/Pygmies Extinction.htm.]

It is clear from all of the media attention that “Hobbit Man” had a blockbuster “opening week.” However, now that the spotlights are out of our eyes and we can view all the facts, it is obvious that “all that glitters is not gold.” As the spotlight dims on “Hobbit Man,” the less it looks like any type of “missing link.” Unfortunately, the media that were so quick to parade this alleged evolutionary ancestor before us, will likely be as silent as a tomb as “the rest of the story” becomes available. If the human fossil record is hanging in the balance on a bunch of bones described as “mashed potatoes,” then maybe it is time that such a timeworn, decrepit theory cease being taught as fact!

REFERENCES

Brown, P., T. Sutikna, et al., (2004), “A New Small-bodied Hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia,” Nature, 431:1055-1061, October 28.

Dalton, Rex (2004), “Little Lady of Flores Forces Rethink of Human Evolution,” Nature, 431:1029, October 28.

Henneberg, Maciej (2004), Personal Communication on November 10.

“Hobbit Folk ‘Were Just Sick Humans’ ” (2004), Guardian Unlimited, [On-line], URL: http://www.mg.co.za/Content/l3.asp?cg=BreakingNews-InternationalNews&ao=125108.

Homo floresiensis” (2004), Thinking Anglicans [On-line], http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/000884.html.

“Indon Experts Refute Claim” (2004), The Star Online, [On-line], URL: http://www.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2004/11/7/asia/9348613&sec=asia.

Lahr, Marta Mirazón and Robert Foley (2004), “Human Evolution Writ Small,” Nature, 431:1043-1044, October 28.

Lemonick, Michael D. (2004), “Hobbits of the South Pacific,” Time, 164[19]:50-52, November 8.

Mervis, Jeffrey (1998), “Keeper of the Keys to Fossil Kingdom,” Science, 279[5356]:1482, March 6.

Morris, Desmond (2004), “Eton or the Zoo?,” BBC News, [On-line], URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3964579.stm.

Morwood, M.J., R.P. Soejono, et al., (2004), “Archaeology and Age of a New Hominin from Flores in Eastern Indonesia,” Nature, 431:1087-1091, October 28.

“Scientist Challenges ‘Hobbit’ Man Theory” (2004), ABC Online, [On-line], URL: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200411/s1236476.htm.

Sudiarno, Tarko (2004), “RI Scientists Refute Flores Man Finding,” Indonesia Archaeology on the Net, [On-line], URL: http://www.arkeologi.n-et/index1.php?id=view_news&ct_news=550.

Windschuttle, Keith and Tim Gillin (2002), “The Extinction of the Australian Pygmies,” Quadrant, [On-line], URL: http://www.sydneyline.com/Pygmies%20Extinction.htm.




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