Tag Archives: hobbit

Mike Morwood Obit

You know about the Hobbit. Not The Hobbit (TM) but the hominid from Flores, Indonesia. Mike Morwood was a key investigator in that research (though he did lots of other research as well).

He was born …

… in Auckland, New Zealand, studied archaeology at the University of Auckland and gained his PhD at the Australian National University in Canberra. From a position in the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement – the public service body with responsibility at that time for Aboriginal cultural heritage – he joined the University of New England (UNE), in Armidale, New South Wales, in 1981, and worked there until 2007. Mike then moved to the University of Wollongong, also in New South Wales.

In his PhD thesis, on the rock art and archaeology of the Carnarvon Ranges in Central Queensland, Mike had pioneered the inclusion of rock art into other archaeological studies, and continued to work on projects which sought such integration until his death. He turned his UNE course on the archaeology of rock art into the book Visions from the Past (2002).

And there is much more to his bio than that.

In fact, you can read about the “Archaeologist whose discovery of a ‘Hobbit’ skeleton sparked a controversy over human evolution” in this writeup by Iain Davidson, in The Guardian.

Fighting Over Hobbit

The Hobbit is a book by JRR Tolkien, a just released blockbuster movie, and a hominid from Indonesia. Here, we are speaking about the hominid from Indonesia.

A while back I wrote a review of a book by Dean Falk, for American Scientist. You can find that review here, and you can find a different review of the same book here on my blog.

Falk’s book is about endocasts and brains her area of specialty and she goes into the study of two specific hominids in particular, Taung, and LB1. Taung (pronunced “Tah oong,” roughly) is the type specimen of Australopithecus africanus, the first described Australopith and probably the first early hominid recovered in Africa, which by the way was in 1924. LB1 is one of the diminutive Homo found on the island of Flores, Indonesia, sometimes called “Hobbit” that shook things up a bit a few years back. Assuming this is what most experts say it is, this is a new species in the human family, Homo floresiensis. Go and read the reviews cites above to find more, or better yet, read the book. A cool feature of Dean’s book is that she is a scientist writing about the research she knows about, but it is NOT a general “here’s what happened in human evolution” book, but rather, focuses much more on a smaller subset of issues.

My old friend Maciej Henneberg and Robert Eckhardt have a very different opinion of this fossil than Dean Falk does, and as far as I know, different from the broader consensus. Henneberg and Eckhardt (and some others) view Homo floresiensis as a previously existing species (ie., Homo sapiens) but pathological. They may be right, but they probably aren’t. And, the whole story of who has done what with these fossils, and to each other, is one of the more rollicking adventures in paleoanthropology. If this drama was playing out in the 18th century, there would have been a few duals by now.

Anyway, I just found out that Maciej and Robert wrote an extensive comment on my book review, and sent it to American Scientist who did not want to publish it because it was too long. Subsequently, the’ve published their original review on a blog and sent American Scientist a shorter version, which has been placed on the American Scientist web site. The blog post is: Response to American Scientist Review – Longer Version and the American Scientist version is A letter regarding Greg Laden’s review of The Fossil Chronicles. I invite you to read them both, but I’d start with the American Scientist version because the longer one is very long.

A Book about Taung and "the Hobbit"

The Fossil Chronicles: How Two Controversial Discoveries Changed Our View of Human Evolution is by a scientist Dean Falk, who has contributed significantly to the study of evolution of the human brain, and who has been directly involved in some of the more interesting controversies in human evolution.

Back when I was a graduate student I was assigned by my advisor a set of literature to absorb and comment on. The mix of published and soon to be published papers included a series of papers written by Ralph Holloway and Dean Falk. These represented a fight over the interpretation of early hominid brains as studied through endocasts. Endocasts are fossilized casts of the inside of an animal’s brain case or the artificially produced version made of casting material poured into a skull. Either way, you get a roundish blob that resembles the exterior of the original brain. Endocasts are of limited value, as layers of tissue in a living mammal separate the brain from the skull, attenuating detail. As Falk point out in her book, endocasts are a rather “surficial” view of a brain, but are not without their uses.

Fossil endocasts are compared to endocasts made from the skulls of “living” primates and humans, which in turn are understood via Continue reading A Book about Taung and "the Hobbit"