Do dwarf hippos explain hobbits? ask scientists, according to reports in BBC News, ABC (Australia) News in Science, ScienceDaily and Nature news 6 May 2009. Scientists at the Natural History Museum, London, UK have studied skulls of an extinct Madagascan hippopotamus they say could explain the small size of Homo floresiensis otherwise known as “the Hobbit”. Hobbits were about one metre (3ft) tall and had a brain of just over 400 cubic centimetres, about a third the size of a human brain. The researchers claim the small size of the Hobbit could be caused by “insular dwarfism” – the tendency for animals to shrink in size after they are isolated on islands and have to cope with scarce resources. Eleanor Weston, a Natural History Museum palaeontologist, explained: “The discovery of a small fossil human from the island of Flores with normal facial proportions but a brain the size of chimpanzee has baffled scientists. It could be that its skull is that of a dwarfed mammal living on an island. Looking at pygmy hippos in Madagascar, which possess exceptionally small brains for their size, suggests that the ‘hobbit’ was a dwarf resulting from its H. erectus ancestors being isolated on the island in the past.”

Other scientists are not so convinced. Robert Martin — a biological anthropology curator at the Field Museum in Chicago, told Nature News “I think that claim goes too far, based as it is on a single case relying on indirect evidence.” Maciej Henneberg of the University of Adelaide claims it is not appropriate to compare semi-aquatic herbivorous hippos with land dwelling omnivorous hominins. Other researchers claim that a creature with such a small brain could not make the stone tools that were also found in the cave with the bones.

Henneberg is part of the group that claims the Hobbit is a pygmy human and has a small brain due to a disease called microcephaly. He commented: “To my mind a gross disorder is a simpler explanation.” He is also sceptical of the study of the foot that indicate Hobbits were very different from humans. He said that foot bones were found scattered in Liang Bua cave along with bones from other individuals, therefore scientists can’t be sure that they come from the same individual. However, Mike Morwood of the University of Wollongong, who was involved in the foot study, insists the bones were put together properly and the foot is definitely different to a human foot, being very long with no arch. He said: “The feet are almost the same length, as a proportion of the leg, as bonobos” and suggests further analysis of hand bones may reveal the hobbit was “more arboreal” than modern humans.

According to ScienceDaily: “a number of recent analyses of the skull, face, and wrist have found many unusually primitive features among the “hobbits” that are more similar to chimpanzees and Australopithecus, suggesting that the Flores inhabitants represent a remnant population of early hominins.”

ABC, BBC, ScienceDaily

Editorial Comment: The research referred to above is the latest in a series of studies of H. floresiensis and every one of them has shown the bones to be more like ape bones than human bones. At the risk of sounding repetitive, to date H. floresiensis has been found to have an ape-like chin, wrist, shoulder, body and limb proportions, and ape-sized brain. We said this would happen when the bones were first found, even when other creation groups were going along with the diseased human dwarf theory. Hobbits are clearly ape bones, and it is about time both evolutionists and creationists admitted this. If they had been found in Africa or in rocks with an older evolutionary age they would have been classified as some kind of ape, but there is no scientific kudos, or evolutionary story in finding another extinct ape. (Ref. anthropology, hominids, primates)

Evidence News 27 May 2009