Hobbits Debate Heats Up

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 5th, 2008

The Homo floresiensis debate has been reenergized again with the publication of a new paper in the journal Proc. R. Soc. B doi:10.1098/rspb.2007.1488.

The following is a clickable link to the full paper, the abstract of which is below the link.

Are the small human-like fossils found on Flores human endemic cretins? by Peter J. Obendorf, Charles E. Oxnard and Ben J. Kefford.

Fossils from Liang Bua ( LB) on Flores, Indonesia, including a nearly complete skeleton ( LB1) dated to 18 kyr BP, were assigned to a new species, Homo floresiensis. We hypothesize that these individuals are myxoedematous endemic (ME ) cretins, part of an inland population of (mostly unaffected) Homo sapiens. ME cretins are born without a functioning thyroid; their congenital hypothyroidism leads to severe dwarfism and reduced brain size, but less severe mental retardation and motor disability than neurological
endemic cretins. We show that the fossils display many signs of congenital hypothyroidism, including enlarged pituitary fossa, and that distinctive primitive features of LB1 such as the double rooted lower premolar and the primitive wrist morphology are consistent with the hypothesis. We find that the null hypothesis (that LB1 is not a cretin) is rejected by the pituitar y fossa size of LB1, and by multivariate analyses of cranial measures. We show that critical environmental factors were potentially present on Flores, how remains of cretins but not of unaffected individuals could be preserved in caves, and that extant oral traditions may provide a record of cretinism.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

7 Responses to “Hobbits Debate Heats Up”

  1. Dan Gannon responds:

    I’m unconvinced by the “Hobbits as modern human cretins” hypothesis. Here are a few reasons why:

    Cretinism requires profound iodine deficiency, and is generally seen in places far from coastlines (such as the Alps,) and when travel and trade to/from the coasts is basically nonexistent. The “Hobbits,” Homo floresiensis, lived on an island, there is good evidence that they caught and cooked fish. Seafood, including fish, is a rich source of iodine. This provides strong evidence against the cretinism hypothesis.

    Some recent articles discussing this claim include convincing points in rebuttal. For instance, the range of dates for the H floresiensis discoveries (90,000 years ago to 12,000 years ago,) the oldest of which clearly predate “modern human” presence in the region, and the many thousands of years of survival, would preclude a merely pathological population. Keep in mind, multiple individuals with consistent morphology and size, from different time periods, were discovered. Could a cretin population survive for so many millenia? And how could they remain an unbroken lineage of cretins, while eating fish?

    Also, cretinism does not produce the entire suite of features, many of which are Australopithecine-like, seen in H floresiensis. There is not only the wrist bone morphology, but the gorilla-like ear bone morphology, primitive limb proportions, large feet, Australopithecine-like pelvis and shoulder morphology, distinctive brain morphology, primitive mandibular morphology (not a chin structure as is seen in modern human cretins,) and all the rest.

    No, I’m not convinced by the “Hobbits as modern human cretins” claim. It isn’t any more convincing than the previous “Hobbits as sick modern human” claims, and one wonders at the motives behind these poorly conceived claims.

    I wonder, isn’t the perpetual drive to dismiss H floresiensis as “sick modern humans” an attack on the beliefs and the heritage of those who claim hybrid descent from H floresiensis? (Flores Islanders such as the Rampasassa tribe.) It seems that some outsiders are ignorantly trampling on evidence and cultural heritage that they know practically nothing about, for their own reasons, whatever those may be. I’m more inclined to take a holistic view, considering all of the evidence, in context, including the claims of those who, morphologically, appear to be what they claim to be.

  2. jayman responds:

    I second Dan’s observations, and would add a couple of my own : if this was a reproducing population that bred true, if their origin was “cretinism” what difference would it make? There is no reason Homo sapiens can not produce decendent species. Evolution does not mean “toward perfection”.
    Secondly the authors should be able to produce a skull, or entire skeleton, of an undisputed modern ME cretin and demonstrate the similarity.
    This whole thing is nearly identical to the Neanderthal debate in the 1800s, when the Neanderthals where said to be pathological humans – one authority pronounced the first skeleton to be a “rickety Cossack”. Do we need to reexamine the Neanderthals? I’d say their skeletal structure is more like Homo sapiens than H. floresiensis is.

  3. MattBille responds:

    The duration of this debate seems destined to be measured in geologic time until and unless we find more cranial specimens.

    Am I correct in saying that, as a general rule, the idea that such cretins grew to maturity, which these fossils show they did, seems unlikely in a primitive hunter-gatherer culture? Such cultures tend not to expend the effort to keep marginally functional members alive and well-fed. I know it’s not a hard rule, but it’s something else to think about.

  4. HOOSIERHUNTER responds:

    Just wondering. Has anyone done an evaluation on the hobbits versus the skeletal similarities/differences of African pygmies? It seems to me that a good place to start would be to look at what is currently alive. If this was a small race of humans then there might be some insights there.

  5. mystery_man responds:

    I really do not know enough about paleoanthropology (wish I did) to make any informed opinions here. I will say, however, that it is very likely we would see perhaps very interesting or even bizarre traits in a group such as Homo floresiensis that has evolved in isolation in an island habitat. Considering that there are many examples of animals developing unique attributes and morphology in such circumstances, I think this should be kept in mind when reviewing the physical evidence presented for Homo floresiensis.

  6. DWA responds:

    OK, read the paper.

    Here’s what I read: The thesis that this is a find of endemic human cretins should be tested further, as it has survived numerous tests for validity.

    Fair enough. I’d agree. I’ve railed many times on this site about scientists jumping to conclusions, rather than doing science, so I’d have to agree.

    But not only is that not saying they are cretins; the “extant oral traditions” described in the paper as supporting the thesis, particularly the tradition of the “greedy ones,” read much more to me like a separate species of human than they do like conspecific cretins.

    My two cents.

  7. Dan Gannon responds:

    It appears to be “Game Over” for the “Hobbits as Cretins” claim. Dean Falk and Ralph Holloway have weighed in against the claim, as has John Hawks, and others.

    Were the Flores Hobbits Really Cretins?
    By Elizabeth Culotta
    ScienceNOW Daily News
    5 March 2008

    Hobbit Cretin FAQ, by John Hawks:

    Also see the comment, posted by Caley, here on this page:


    He points out, “The authors of the cretinism paper misrepresented the data on the Flores wrist. Contrary to their claims, the trapezoid is in fact normally proportioned relative to the other carpal bones and its anatomy is essentially identical to the condition seen in nonhuman primates. Furthermore, they have misrepresented the anatomy of the pituitary fossa in their argument for cretinism. Dean Falk and Ralph Holloway, two leading experts on the evolution of the brain, rarely see eye to eye on things. Yet, they are in agreement concerning the LB1 cranium from Flores. […]”

    Not to mention, the 840000 year old tools found on Flores (see my reply to Caley, on the same page.)

    Dan Gannon

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