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History Buff, a blog for history lovers everywhere! History Buff brings
news stories about archaeology from around the world together on one site.
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historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the
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Bones of contention
The controversy over the status of the 'hobbit' continues. Cosmos looks on as two teams of spirited scientists try to settle things once and for all.
"It's just another day for us," Thomas Sutikna tells me, boarding a beat-up minibus bound for Middle Earth. He and his team from the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology spend their days hunting 'hobbits' – a race of extinct, metre-high humans whose remains they discovered in Liang Bua Cave on the remote Indonesian island of Flores. The only thing different about this day is that Sutikna and crew will have 40-odd experts peering over their shoulders and into their digs, debating if and how their work should rewrite what it means to be human.
Since the announcement of the new hominid species Homo floresiensis on the front cover of U.K. journal Nature in October 2004, scientists have argued fiercely about the implications of a few handfuls of tiny bones. A majority of researchers welcome the Flores fossils as a new species of human. They embrace the view that we were not alone, at least not until recently, and that some of the hallmarks of humanity – big brains atop long legs – stand to be revised. A vocal minority, meanwhile, rejects the new species. They say the Flores fossil is one of us, a modern Homo sapiens, albeit diseased and deformed.
The debate became personal at the end of 2004, when emeritus professor Teuku Jacob from Indonesia's Gadjah Mada University 'borrowed' the Liang Bua bones from Jakarta's Centre for Archaeology and debunked Homo floresiensis in the media.
Australian anthropologist Mike Morwood, of the University of Wollongong in New South Wales and a partner on the Liang Bua find, cried foul on an institutional agreement regarding management of the bones. The brouhaha descended to "a level of shouting and name-calling that you do not often hear in Indonesia," Morwood would later report. Most distressing, however, was that the bones were returned to the centre scarred, broken and clumsily repaired. A member of Jacob's lab confessed that the damage was the result of botched efforts to cast the crumbly remains.