Friday, October 28, 2005

Scientist makes monkey of Hobbit

Proving she still stirs scientific minds, the tiny new human unearthed in Indonesia has been accused of walking on all fours and swinging through the trees.

According to Dutch palaeontologist Gert van den Bergh, the long arm bones and oddly oriented shoulders of homo floresiensis mean the "Hobbit" and her kind moved more like macaque monkeys and gibbon apes than the modern people with whom they shared their island as recently as 12,000 years ago.

"This could be an adaptation to the inhospitable and rugged island of Flores, where the largest coastal plain is just 15km wide. The larger part of the island consists of very steep mountain sides," said Dr van den Bergh, an expert on ancient animals from Southeast Asia, based at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research at Texel.

But Australian palaeoanthropologist Peter Brown dismissed the Dutchman's theory. "Gert would get a fail grade in first year anthropology," he snapped.

"This is complete nonsense," claimed Professor Brown of the University of New England in Armidale. Professor Brown analysed the first 18,000-year-old remains discovered by an Australian and Indonesian team in December 2003, reporting the find in the journal Nature last October.

Dr van den Bergh's view is also ruffling scientific feathers because he made the case in a popular Dutch science magazine, Natuurwetenschap & Techniek, not a peer-reviewed journal.

And Dr van den Bergh is the fossil animal expert for the Hobbit discovery team, co-led by UNE archeologist Mike Morwood.

Professor Morwood was unimpressed: "It's unfortunate such speculation has been made before detailed studies are complete."

Story here.

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