Monday, May 11, 2009
In 2004, paleoanthropologists digging on the Indonesian island Flores found fossilized bones of a hominid that didn't appear to match any previously known species. Their brains and bodies were about 1/3 the size of Homo erectus, the ancestor of Homo sapiens, but their feet were far longer and flatter than would make sense for a creature of their size. They have been officially named Homo floresiensis, but researchers, clearly fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novels, nicknamed them "hobbits".
Now of course, H. floresiensis wasn't any more like Bilbo Baggins or Sam Gamgee than H. erectus resembled Albert Einstein. They were primitive. They had teeny brains, and the smartest of the lot couldn't brew a cup of tea or furnish a hobbit hole on the best day he ever had.
At first, it was thought that hobbits belonged to the H. erectus species and had become dwarfed from living isolated on an island, or from some genetic defect. But recent evidence, especially that gained from examining the foot bones, indicates, in the words of William Harcourt-Smith, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, that the recent discovery of the "hobbit foot is another strong piece of evidence that they were nothing like us."
Well, certainly not. Middle Earth was a swell place. Hobbits sat around eating and never having heart attacks, smoking pipes and never getting lung cancer, and being happy with few possessions and a lot of leisure time. The only ones that ever got in trouble were those that left their world and entered ours. With all the rotten news going around, it's nice to find hard scientific evidence to back up a great fantasy.