Human or Hobbit?

Human or Hobbit?

“Middle Earth” is not a real place. Humans, dwarves, elves, and hobbits never lived together. But in the fall of 2004, Australian and Indonesian paleoanthropologists stunned the archeological world when they published evidence for hobbit-sized hominids (see box below “Who Were the Hominids?”) that coexisted for a time with modern humans.1  Since their discovery, these little creatures have been at the center of a big scientific controversy. They have also prompted questions about the validity of RTB’s views on human origins.

Who Were the Hominids?

RTB’s biblical creation model views the hominids as animals created by God.* Accordingly, these extraordinary creatures walked erect and possessed some level of intelligence. These abilities allowed them to cobble crude tools and even adopt  some level of “culture.” The RTB model maintains that the hominids were not spiritual beings made in God’s image. RTB’s model reserves this status exclusively for modern humans.

  • * Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), 48–50.

The model predicts biological similarities will exist among the hominids and modern humans to varying degrees. But, because the hominids were not created in God’s image, they would be expected to be distinct from modern humans in their cognitive capacity, behavior, “technology”, and “culture”.

Fossils recovered on the Flores Island of Indonesia indicate that these hominids stood just over three feet tall with a chimpanzee-like brain size (380 cm³). Their cranial and facial features bear resemblance to Homo erectus and their post-cranial skeleton combines characteristics of the australopithecines (like “Lucy”) and H. erectus. The paleoanthropologists who recovered these remains classified them as a new species, Homo floresiensis

The most remarkable specimen recovered was a nearly complete skeleton of a female that dates to about 18,000 years in age. Other fossil and archeological evidence indicates that H. floresiensis existed on Flores Island from about 95,000 to 12,000 years ago, when they became extinct. From those dates it appears that H. floresiensis coexisted with modern humans, but paleoanthropologists are not sure if the hominids had any contact with human beings.2

Archeological evidence and animal remains reveal that H. floresiensis hunted and scavenged the dwarf elephants on the island, as well as rats, fish, snakes, frogs, birds, and tortoises.

The coexistence of H. floresiensis with modern humans and their remarkable behavior—given their small brains—has prompted a minority of paleoanthropologists to argue that these creatures are microcephalic (abnormally small-headed) human beings.3  Young-earth creationists, who generally regard hominids like Neanderthals and H. erectus as deformed human beings, also espouse this position.

This interpretation is untenable, however. Since the discovery of the initial H. floresiensis specimen, paleoanthropologists have recovered fossils from twelve other individuals, all of which display identical characteristics to the original find.4  Brain shape studies and additional characterization of skeletal features distinguish H. floresiensis from microcephalic humans and confirm its status as a distinct hominid.5 Some skeptics argue that the tool use and hunting practices of H. floresiensis undermine the RTB model, which holds that the two species should show behavioral disparity.6 This critique, however, fails to recognize the profound behavioral differences between H. floresiensis and modern humans. Even though they used tools and hunted, the hominids’ behavior was still crude compared to modern humans. Like H. erectus, they used tools (from stones-see “Tool Time”) reminiscent of the Acheulean industry.7

Tool Time

H. habilis appears to be the first hominid to use tools. Referred to as Mode I (or Oldowan), the technology during this prehistoric period consists of chipping away rock flakes from a stone core using a rock, called a hammerstone. Mode I technology appeared in the archeological record about 2.5 million years ago and persisted for at least 1 million years with no perceptible change. H. erectus used a slightly more sophisticated technology, called Mode II (or Acheulean). This technology, which appeared about 1.5 million years ago, involved shaping stones, called bifaces, into a variety of forms. Once this technology appeared in the archeological record, it remained static for nearly 1 million years.

Analysis of all the data reveals that H. floresiensis behaved in nonhuman ways. These diminutive creatures—especially in light of contemporary cultural depictions of hobbits from Middle Earth—may conjure evolutionary connections, but in fact H. floresiensis easily fits the RTB human origins model. This hominid stands distinct from modern humans, not only in anatomy, but in behavior.

  1. P. Brown et al., “A New Small-Bodied Hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia, Nature 431 (October 28, 2004): 1055–61; M. J. Morwood et al., Archaeology and Age of a New Hominin from Flores in Eastern Indonesia,” Nature 431 (October 28, 2004): 1087–91.
  2. Marta Mirazon Lahr and Robert Foley, “Human Evolution Writ Small, Nature 431 (October 28, 2004): 1043–44.
  3. T. Jacob et al.,Pygmoid Australomelanesian Homo sapiens Skeletal Remains from Liang Bua, Flores: Population Affinities and Pathological Abnormalities, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 103 (September 5, 2006): 13241–46.
  4. M. J. Morwood et al.,Further Evidence for Small Body Hominins from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia, Nature 437 (October 13, 2005): 1012–17.
  5. Dean Falk et al., The Brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis, Science 308 (April 8, 2005): 242–45; Dean Falk et al., Brain Shape in Human Microcephalics and Homo floresiensis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 104 (February 13, 2007): 2513–18.
  6. Glenn R. Morton, The Dilemma Posed by the Wee People,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 58 (June 2006): 142–45.
  7. M. J. Morwood et al., Archaeology and Age of New Hominin, Nature 431 (October 28, 2004): 1087-91; Adam Brumm et al., Early Stone Technology on Flores and Its Implications for Homo floresiensis, Nature 441 (June 1, 2006): 624–28.