The tale of the hobbit begins with a strange hominid skull found in 2004 in a cave on the island of Flores, part of Indonesia. Although otherwise appearing human, the skull, like other bones found nearby, was diminutive—hence the appellation “hobbit” to the finds. But since then, scientists have been divided: was this hobbit (and its kin) fully human, on the whole—or do the bones represent a separate species (dubbed Homo floresiensis)?
All major measurements for symmetry of the hobbit skull show six percent or more asymmetry.
Now, scientists Robert Eckhardt of Pennsylvania State University and Maciej Henneberg of the University of Adelaide have released a new defense of the idea that the hobbit skull was actually from an abnormal Homo sapiens. The work appears in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
Eckhardt and Henneberg’s contribution to the debate focuses on the asymmetry of the hobbit’s skull. Although most humans’ skulls are slightly asymmetric in some ways, the asymmetry is normally about one percent or less (based on measurements of various parts of the skull). In contrast, all major measurements for symmetry of the hobbit skull show six percent or more asymmetry—indicative of “disordered development,” and of “not a new species, but a malformed human ancestor.”
Some of the scientists backing the claim that the hobbit was a separate species have responded, arguing that this asymmetry may be due to posterior deformational plagiocephaly (PDP), which occurs when excessive pressure is applied to one part of a developing infant’s head.
In their paper, Eckhardt and Henneberg offer a rebuttal, pointing out that PDP occurs, in part, because of the way humans give birth—to relatively helpless newborns with soft skull bones. The twist is that evolutionists consider this form of birth to have developed later than the time when H. floresiensis supposedly diverged from the hominid line that allegedly developed into modern humans. Therefore if the hobbit really were a unique species, PDP cannot explain the skull asymmetry—thus undercutting the original response to Eckhardt and Henneberg’s research.
“No one outside of our research group seems to have recognized this contradiction,” Eckhardt lamented. “With a chimp-sized brain, there is no basis for invoking [PDP] to explain the asymmetry seen in [the hobbit skull].” Interestingly, Eckhardt also referred to the current debate over the hobbit as “unscientific,” with other researchers ignoring facts about the find in order to support their conclusion of a separate species.
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