The UNLV Department of Anthropology Presents: Fossil "hobbits," Homo sapiens, and the politics of paleoanthropology, a talk by Dr. Dean Falk, Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology, Florida State University; Tallahassee, FL and senior scholar, School for Advanced Research; Santa Fe, New Mexico
Abstract of Talk:
Important fossil hominins (early human relatives) that were discovered during the 1800s and 1900s were greeted with skepticism by natural scientists as well as the public. The fossilized remains of Neanderthals, for example, were incorrectly viewed as aberrant apes or pathological modern humans. Skepticism persists among some scholars as illustrated by the current controversy about Homo floresiensis, which was discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. The most complete Homo floresiensis specimen is from a woman who lived around 18,000 years ago and stood just over three feet tall (hence her nickname of Hobbit). Her highly unusual skeleton, small brain, Asian location, and associated stone tools contradict received wisdom about human evolution, causing some paleoanthropologists to maintain that hobbits were Homo sapiens who were afflicted with some sort of pathology such as microcephaly. Hobbits also upset the anthropocentric belief that Homo sapiens was the only hominin species that existed so recently. Although intellectual turf guarding and paleopolitics continue to fuel the debate, new evidence underscores the importance of Homo floresiensis and other recent discoveries for rethinking the "big picture" of human evolution.