Hobbit-man: New species or flawed research?

It was about two years ago that scientists uncovered yet another new member of the human family tree -- homo floresiensis, aka the "hobbit." According to the report in National Geographic entitled "Hobbit-Like Human Ancestor Found in Asia" by Hillary Mayell, October 27, 2004:

Scientists have found skeletons of a hobbit-like species of human that grew no larger than a three-year-old modern child (See pictures). The tiny humans, who had skulls about the size of grapefruits, lived with pygmy elephants and Komodo dragons on a remote island in Indonesia 18,000 years ago.

Australian and Indonesian researchers discovered bones of the miniature humans in a cave on Flores, an island east of Bali and midway between Asia and Australia.

Scientists have determined that the first skeleton they found belongs to a species of human completely new to science. Named Homo floresiensis, after the island on which it was found, the tiny human has also been dubbed by dig workers as the "hobbit," after the tiny creatures from the Lord of the Rings books.

Note the certainty of the article -- there appears to be no question in the mind of the author that this was a new species of human that was previously unknown. No qualifications are noted. (At one point, toward the end of the article, the conclusions about this hobbit are noted to be a theory, but that is said almost in passing.) The article even came complete with an illustration showing a hobbit bringing home some type of mammalian creature for food.

But, here is the question and it is a slight variation of the question I asked about the giant ape known as gigantopithecus blackii here: How many fossils of this "hobbit" have been found? The answer: apparently nine. Now, nine is significantly more than the number of skeletons found for gigantopithecus blackii which makes the identification of a new species much more compelling.

However, is it necessarily true that this discovery represents a new species of human as the National Geographic article seemed to represent? Or is it equally possible that these skeletons are not actually a new species but members of an already identified species with a disability? In an article dated May 18, 2006, from World Science entitled "Race of tiny people didn't exist, scientists say", at least some in the scientific community think that the announcement of a new species may be somewhat premature:

When researchers found 18,000-year-old bones of a small, humanlike creature on an Indonesian island in 2003, they concluded that the bones represented a new species in the human family tree.

This view was widely accepted among scientists and trumpeted by the press. Because of its size, the creature was nicknamed the "Hobbit."

But a growing number of scientists have raised questions about the claim.

In a new paper, a some researchers say the bones are probably just from an ordinary person who suffered microcephaly, or small-headedness. Microcephaly is often associated with short stature also.

"There has been too much media hype and too little critical scientific evaluation," said primatologist Robert D. Martin, provost of the Field Museum of Chicago and the paper's lead author.

He blasted some of the research that went into the case as "unacceptable" in quality.

It seems to me that if the scientists had found only one skeleton upon which to construct this theory about a new species known as homo floresiensis I would find the objection by these scientists more convincing. But if there really were nine such skeletons found, it makes the objection more difficult to believe. Certainly, given the lack of medical care and possible problems with diet, it is possible that this particular group of human-like creatures may have had a large number of members who suffered from microcephaly, but that seems somewhat unlikely to me. To find nine skeletons and have them all suffer from microcephaly would suggest that the entire group of people either (1) were hobbits or (2) housed all of their members with microcephaly in a single place like humans used to do with people suffering from leprosy. The former seems more reasonable.

But let me make this clear from my own viewpoint: the fact that there are other human-like species in existence is not contrary to the Biblical text which does not address what other human-like species may have existed before homo sapiens entered the scene. The only mention we have in the Bible of human-like creatures is humans themselves. It is a logical error to conclude that simply because the Bible doesn't mention something that the Bible doesn't believe it existed. I don't believe, for example, that dodos or stegosauruses are mentioned in the Bible, but that doesn't mean that the Bible denies that they existed. Likewise, simply because the Bible doesn't mention any pre-human hominids, does not mean that it denies that they existed. The real question is, of course, how they got here and that is another issue altogether.


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