Dean Falk: "Fossil Hobbits, Homo floresiensis, and the Politics of Paleoanthropology"

October 1, 2013 - 8:00am

Anthropology Colloquium Series

Dean Falk, Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Florida State University, and School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

"Fossil hobbits, Homo floresiensis, and the politics of paleoanthropology"

Important fossil hominins (early human relatives) discovered during the 1800s and 1900s were greeted with skepticism by natural scientists as well as by the public. Indeed, the fossilized remains of Neanderthals, for example, were deemed aberrant apes or pathological modern humans.  Although one would hope for more enlightened receptions to hominin discoveries in the 21st century, skepticism persists, as is illustrated by the current controversy surrounding Homo floresiensis, which was discovered in 2003 on the Indonesian island of Flores. The most complete Homo floresiensis specimen is from a woman who lived around 18,000 years ago and stood just over three feet tall (hence her nickname, Hobbit). Her highly unusual skeleton, small brain, Asian provenance, and associated stone tools contradict received wisdom about human evolution, causing some paleoanthropologists to maintain that hobbits were merely pathological, perhaps microcephalic, Homo sapiens. Hobbits also upset the anthropocentric belief that Homo sapiens was the only very recently surviving hominin species. Although intellectual turf-guarding and paleopolitics continue to fuel the debate, new evidence underscores the importance of Homo floresiensis and other recent discoveries for rethinking the “big picture” of human evolution.

Location and Address

125 Frick Fine Arts, 8 pm