I've been catching up on my online reading, and a couple days ago John Hawks offered this tantalizing hint that Homo floresiensis a k a the Hobbit may be a pathological specimen. Such claims have been made before based on the small skull of the hominid, but they've been pretty powerfully rebutted. But Hawks is claiming that the rest of the skeleton is sickly. He seems to be basing this contention on having seen the bones, and on research by others that will be coming out soon. Now, normally I wouldn't put much stock in this sort of off-hand remark, but Hawks has been so good on his blog that I have to say I'm intrigued. Adding to my interest is the fact that he now retracts his suggestion that the Hobbit represented a very early migration out of Africa by australopithecines.
Yet, this individual survived deep into adulthood.
While I accepted the "hobbit" as advertised - insular specialization of Homo erectus - I did think it premature of the more mainstream press, such as National Geographic and the corporate news companies, to run stories on the discovery which dismiss all skepticism as wrong-headed.
In the April 2005 issue of National Geographic, the co-authors of "The People Time Forgot," write:
"For a few skeptics, this is all too much to swallow. They argue that the one complete skull must have come from a modern human with a rare condition called microcephaly, in which the brain is shrunken and the body dwarfed. The other small bones, they say, might be the remains of children. But last year's discoveries include part of a second adult skull - a lower jaw - that is just as small as the first. It simply strains credibility to invoke a rare disease a second time."
While two individuals suffering from microcephaly does seem like a stretch, Occam's razor would have us all holding our tongues at the moment. The verdict is still out, yet everybody, myself included, is eagerly adding to the cacophony.