July 24, 2013
Extinct ‘Hobbit’ Humanoid Resembled Man, Not Apes, Says New Study
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
According to a new report in the Journal of Archaeological Science, an ancient humanoid species referred to as the "hobbit" closely resembled humans and not apes as some experts previously thought.
Archeologists first excavated remains of this three-foot-tall human-like primate from an Indonesian cave in 2003. Known to researchers by its scientific name Homo floresiensis, the species is believed to have been a contemporary of Homo sapiens and to have gone extinct around 12,000 years ago.
While some scientists have said that the hobbit species was more ape-like, others contend that it had more human features like Homo erectus. Based on a facial reconstruction, the new study supports the latter theory.
"Our facial approximation is primarily based on verified, peer reviewed research regarding the relationship between the skull and its soft tissues," the researchers wrote.
The study noted that chimps do not have human cheeks. Therefore, previous reconstructions of the hobbit's face were most likely inaccurate. Other theories are misguidedly based on the assumption that earlier human species had the features of ape-man hybrids, the study asserted.
Sadly, the man who first discovered the hobbit species, Australian researcher Mike Morwood from the University of Wollongong, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 62. The professor of archeology was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2012.
Bert Roberts, director of the Centre for Archaeological Science (CAS) at the university and a 20-year colleague of Morwood's, said the professor will be "sorely missed" for his contributions to science and his adventurous spirit, according to a statement.
"Mike was an inspiration to many of the early-career researchers now working in CAS and to a generation of young Indonesian researchers, some of whom now hold high office in Indonesian agencies and others are enrolled here at UOW," he said.
In his postdoctoral years, Morwood led a team of researchers into a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores where they would discover the partial skeleton of a 30-year-old Homo floresiensis woman. An additional six partial hobbit skeletons would later be found, along with skeletons of a stegadon, an extinct relative of the elephant, and giant tortoise.
In 2009, he started a multi-institution venture titled "Change and continuity: Chronology, archaeology and art in the North Kimberley, Northwest Australia." The endeavor was focused on investigating the initial peopling of Australia.
Earlier this month, Morwood learned that his colleague Roberts would be able to continue their work through an ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship that would establish Australia's first national center for archaeological science.
"Mike lived and breathed his research, and just yesterday was still talking about future plans and projects in his absence," Roberts said. "It has been one crowded decade since the Hobbit was excavated in 2003, and the Laureate project is a fitting tribute to Mike's spirit of adventure and a legacy of his remarkable contributions to enlarging our knowledge of human evolution on the world stage."