Dental Anomalies Found in Hobbit Teeth


ScienceNOW: “Tempest in a Hobbit Tooth” One of the Indonesian “hobbit” fossils said to be a unique species of human from 18,000 years ago may have dropped by the dentist for a filling last century, reports ScienceNOW’s Elizabeth Culotta.

The issue was raised recently by paleopathologist Maciej Henneberg of Australia’s University of Adelaide, who based his question of photos of the hobbit coded LB1. Hobbits, formally dubbed Homo floresiensis, have been the center of attention and debate since their discovery was announced in 2004. Found in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, the hobbit remains show hominids with skeletal differences from modern humans. They stood only three feet tall and had a cranial capacity about as large as a grapefruit. Even so, the hobbits were found with tools, and around them was found evidence of the use of fire and hunting.

The hobbit remains show hominids with skeletal differences from modern humans.

The evidence has given rise to two major interpretations of what the hobbits really were. One group holds on to the idea that the hobbits were a separate species of human (hence the name Homo floresiensis); the other group less sensationally suggests that the hobbit size and skeletal anomalies were caused by genetic reasons, malnutrition, or microcephaly. (For a recent in-depth update on the debate, see The Return of the Hobbits.)

As for the latest speculation, in 2005, Henneberg and other scientists had a chance to conduct a cursory examination of the LB1 skull. They used the brief time to photograph LB1’s jaws for later reference, and it is these photographs that triggered a question in Henneberg’s mind: what was the reason for the odd appearance of the lower first molar, which had—as ScienceNOW explains—“a high ridge of enamel next to a scooped-out white area”? Henneberg’s conclusion: dentists working on the Indonesian island in the 1930s may have filled a cavity with a whitish cement (rather than a modern metal amalgam).

Of course, Henneberg’s conclusion clashes with “conventional” wisdom on the hobbits for one major reason: most anthropologists have dated these hobbits to 18,000 years ago! However, because Henneberg’s group has been denied access to the bones (even though “minutes” with the LB1 skull could have answered the question, says Henneberg), he cannot confirm or disprove his hypothesis.

She “was struck by the opacity and whiteness of the dentine.”

Others dispute the 20th-century hobbit notion, including dental anthropologist Shara Bailey of New York University, who examined LB1 in detail and rejects the filled-cavity explanation for the dental anomaly. She admits, however, that she “was struck by the opacity and whiteness of the dentine.” The University of Adelaide’s Peter Brown, who was part of the team that originally reported on the hobbit, suggests the filling appearance may be explained by the chalky limestone the hobbit was found in and believes computed tomography scans support his counter-claim.

Whether or not Henneberg’s speculation proves to be correct (if he ever has the opportunity to test his hypothesis), it’s important to remember that there are several explanations for what caused these hobbits’ small size and skeletal abnormalities. But the use of fire, tools, and hunting are clear indications that they were intelligent humans descended from Adam through Noah. It is possible that, like Neanderthals and the so-called Homo erectus, the genetic information that coded for these hobbits’ skeletons has likely been lost or diluted over time. Or it’s possible that the hobbits’ condition was related to disease, as has been speculated.

Either way, the story of all humans, modern and supposedly “ancient,” can be found starting in Genesis, where we learn that Adam and Eve were created to bear God’s image. Genetic diversity has led to humans of various sizes, proportions, skeletal shapes, shades of skin color, eye color, and more, but each of us carries the image of God and stands in need of Jesus Christ as a savior.

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