'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Photo Courtesy: USA Today)
The face of the "hobbit" looks surprisingly human, report paleontologists who have recreated the visage of the vanished, pint-size human species.
In 2003, paleontologists excavated a curious, small skull from a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. The skull belonged to a creature they dubbed the hobbit (nicknamed after the Lord of the Rings little people). Formally called Homo floresiensis,the species of three-foot-tall early humans likely vanished from Flores, and history, about 12,000 years ago.
Among the scientific debates about the hobbit is one over what they looked like. Some researchers favor a more ape-like appearance and others see their looks as more like Homo erectus, an early human species more than 1.5 million years old. However, in an upcoming report in the Journal of Archaeological Science, some of the hobbit's original discoverers suggest the hobbits had rather human-looking faces.
"Our facial approximation is primarily based on verified, peer reviewed research regarding the relationship between the skull and its soft tissues," says the study led by Susan Hayes of Australia's University of Wollongong, written with her colleagues, Thomas Sutikna and Mike Morwood, leaders of the original hobbit discovery team.
Basically, chimps don't have human cheeks, the study argues, so past reconstructions of the hobbit's face botched its likely looks. Or past efforts fell into the trap of assuming all early modern human species resembled "wild men," "missing links" or "ape-men," the study suggests.
By Dan Vergano