Mystifying human fossils were found on the island of Flores, Indonesia, by a team led by Peter Brown and M. J. Morwood (University of New England, Australia), and reported in Nature (28 October 2004). These adult humans, first estimated to be about 18,000 years old, were just three feet tall and had a cranial capacity of about 380 cubic centimeters (chimpanzee size). Chris Stringer (Natural History Museum, London) said: “This finding really does rewrite our knowledge of human evolution” (Newsweek, 8 November 2004, p. 23). The scientific name for these fossils is Homo floresiensis. However, they have been affectionately nicknamed “hobbits,” after the diminutive stars of the Lord of the Rings saga by J. R. R. Tolkien.
In their Nature report, Brown and Morwood claimed that these fossils represent a new and hitherto undiscovered human species. They suggest that this new species evolved from an older Homo erectus population on Flores through island dwarfing. Island dwarfing is a condition that some suggest can take place when a small population of large animals lives in isolation, has limited food resources, and has a lack of predators.
The first discoveries included a partial skeleton known as LB1, referring to the Liang Bua cave where it was found. Stone tools and evidence of both fire and hunting were also discovered. Subsequent excavations by the same team, reported in Nature (13 October 2005), bring the estimated number of fossil individuals discovered to nine. The age estimates of these fossils were revised to cover a range from 12,000 years to 95,000 years ago.
There is a tremendous advantage in making extravagant claims for newly discovered fossils.
Because of the tremendous fascination the public has regarding our ancestry, a fossil hunter who finds a “human” fossil that seems to be unique receives much fame and fortune. The person who finds the second such fossil doesn’t even get a cigar. Thus, there is great incentive to be the first to find something new. Since the discoverer of such fossils “owns them” until he has thoroughly studied them and published his findings, all a paleoanthropologist has to do when he publishes is to build his case. No committee or board of scientists evaluates his fossils or his claims before the discovering scientist publishes. Only after he publishes does the scientific community decide if his case has any merit. If the scientific community later decides that he really hasn’t found anything new, the discoverer still has most of his fame and fortune. Hence, there is a tremendous advantage in making extravagant claims for newly discovered fossils, whereas the downside penalty is negligible. This has been the history of human fossil hunting, and it appears to be what is going on with the hobbits. However, after sober reflection by evolutionists, the claims for these fossils are becoming less sensational.
Now that other scientists have been able to study these fossils, two alternative theories are emerging and gaining adherents—although the full evidence for these alternative theories is still in the process of being published. The first alternate theory is that these fossils represent pygmy humans, not a new human (hominid) species. The second theory is that these fossil individuals “ … suffered from a form of microcephaly, a pathological condition characterized by an abnormally small brain and head, and which can also cause dwarfism” (Nature, 13 October 2005, p. 957).
Both of these alternate views are offered by evolutionists, and the controversy is heating up! However, both of these views are compatible with young-earth creationism. The argument against microcephaly ignores the fact that microcephaly “. . . can have many causes, and further studies that use larger sample sizes and analyse a wide range of syndromes will be necessary to test the hypothesis completely” (Nature, 13 October 2005, p. 958).
Much is made of the fact that these fossils span a wide range of time (up to 83,000 years, estimated by radiocarbon and thermoluminescence dating) and that fossil bones from different ages are very similar. “‘You can’t have a colony of microcephalics going through time,’ says [Peter] Brown. ‘That's crazy’” (Nature, 13 October 2005, p. 935). However, the seven-year RATE program by creationist scientists has produced evidence strongly suggesting that all evolutionist dates are inflated because they are based on invalid assumptions. Valid assumptions produce biblically compatible dates (i.e., that the Earth is just a few thousand years old).
There are other grounds for questioning the evolutionary dates for the Flores hobbits. Consider this quotation from Discover (January 2005, p. 31): “. . . local folktales suggest that little people were living in caves on some Indonesian islands when the first Dutch explorers arrived in the 16th century.” Normally I would give no credence to folktales. However, there is a colony of “modern Rampasasa pygmies living only a few kilometers from Liang Bua cave” (Science, 25 August 2006, p. 1028). These pygmies have some physical characteristics similar to the hobbits.
The current scientific attitude is well expressed in an editorial note in NewScientist, 26 August 2006, p. 7, entitled “No such thing as a hobbit”:
More scientists have criticised claims made last year that bones found on the Indonesian island of Flores are those of a new hominin species, dubbed “the hobbit.” Flores is too small to have maintained an isolated population for long enough to allow the evolution of a new species, say researchers at Pennsylvania State University.
The “hobbits” were real, and they were human. Although some evolutionists claim that they were a different species, the scientific word “species” has a very different meaning from the Genesis word “kind.” The key to the Genesis word “kind” is interfertility. Evolutionists cannot prove that the hobbits were unable to reproduce with Homo sapiens. While we creationists cannot prove that they could reproduce with modern humans, the cultural artifacts associated with them are things that only true humans produce—stone tools and fire. That the hobbit population, for unknown reasons, had severe genetic and/or other physical disorders is compatible with the Fall in Genesis 3. The true nature of those problems is the subject of much-needed further research.