Homo floresiensis on National Geographic Explorer

I watched the hobbit episode of Explorer last night. There wasn't that much that was new, but they did present a new John Gurche reconstruction of LB1. As usual, it was a great reconstruction, with a very lifelike end result.

I was struck by the impression that it looked Indonesian. That is to say, something about the face structure, especially through the nose and eyes, spoke to me of populations in the region today. This impression was enhanced a bit by the coloration, and I can't say how much of it was created by deliberate choices made during the reconstruction process. Some certainly was -- for example, if Gurche had put fur and a chimp nose on like his AL 444-2 reconstruction, it would necessarily have looked more australopithecine-like. But I didn't get the impression that he used anything like Javan tissue depth standards, so I assume that much of my reaction comes from the bone structure itself. In any event, it's far from conclusive, but it did lend credibility in my mind to what Teuku Jacob has been saying about its features.

The program spent a lot of time with Dean Falk on her brain work. The Brodmann's area 10 story in particular was much clearer across the television than in the Science paper. The frontal convolutions are very large; I'm just not sure what to make of it. In one sense, every anatomical abnormality contributes to the possibility of pathology; in another, it is hard to say that a unique morphology in a fossil organism has a role necessarily like less extreme morphologies in living organisms.

The Explorer show spent a lot of time on the idea that the hobbits may have been recently extant in the form of the legendary "ebu gogo." My favorite part of the whole thing was when the archaeologists go visit with villagers who tell them a story from the history of their village. In the story, ebu gogo had (a long time ago) attacked the village, and the villagers at the time had driven them up the side of a volcano into a cave and set the cave on fire. Then the show cut to a view of the volcano, with a King Kong-like vibe.

I could only think, "Why don't they go up to the cave and see if the burned bones are there?!" After all, isn't that what National Geographic is for? If all I wanted a voice-over of the volcano, I could watch the Discovery channel! Come on, people!


My students tell me that this is on again several times this week, so if you missed it the first time, you have a number of chances. Check the listings for the National Geographic channel.

Also, a reader e-mails a link to this story that says they are planning to find and explore the volcano cave:

Turney said that one of the teams next projects would be to investigate the island folklore, to see if there was any more scientific proof of the hobbits and how and when they became extinct.
He added that the islanders could not have made up their stories because they were giving detailed accounts before the discovery was made.
"They said Homo floresiensis were around until 200 years ago, when they stole a baby from the village. The villagers said their ancestors tossed hay and torches into a volcanic cave where the hominids lived and burned them all.
"We will go back and look for this cave by a village near the town of Bajawa."