Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 28th, 2008
You may have heard that recently the Hobbit fossils, technically Homo floresiensis, were in the news due to the remarkable claim that they were hoaxes because the teeth showed dental work. What was incredible, as I read this, was that this new debunking was done on the basis of the skeptic’s visual examination of only the photographs of the teeth and other such non-first hand evidence.
It sort of reminded me of claims about the Patterson-Gimlin footage being bogus based on bad published image prints that were enlarged on a photocopy machine, something that once did happen.
I was waiting for friend and Hobbit discoverer Peter Brown’s comments to show up in the media, on this latest round of trash talk. Now they are surfacing (see below).
Here are some quotations from one of Brown’s first rebuttals published in the popular press. Not surprisingly, the newest attack on Homo floresiensis is being done to help market a new book.
Dental Work?: The lower left first molar of the hobbit is claimed to have a filling–an observation that other hobbit researchers say is refuted by this photograph.
Peter Brown, University of New England.
Regular Roots: Hobbit defenders say this CT scan showing the lower left first molar reveals no signs of the alleged root canal.
Peter Brown, University of New England.
A University of New England [as in Australia, not North America] academic is hitting back at claims his discovery of a new species was a result of careless examination and the quest for academic glory.
Professor Peter Brown has rubbished Maciej Hennerberg’s claims regarding Brown’s discovery of of the ‘hobbit’ species, the remains of which were uncovered in an Indonesian cave in 2003, and hailed by many as one of the great scientific discoveries of the century.
Not so for Prof Henneberg, who in his new book The Hobbit Trap claims the ‘hobbit’ has had dental work done, which the Professor dates to the 1930s, a claim that throws into doubt the belief that the unknown human species discovered was 18,000 years old.
“What I can see on the … surface of the (tooth) is incredible,” Prof Henneberg writes.
Part of the tooth surface is ‘occupied by a white matt substance of a color slightly lighter than (the) enamel’.
“I have a hypothetical explanation for this unusual occlusal morphology of lower left M1: a filling.”
There has been intensely personal conflict surrounding the debate since UNE archaologist Mike Morwood announced the discovery in October 2004, with passionate debate flaring and academics setting up camps within the scientific community.
Prior to Henneberg’s claims, other academics have expressed doubt as to the authenticity of the dating and identification, with many believing that it was merely a deformed human suffering from a genetic disease.
Prof Brown describes Prof Henneberg’s claims as ‘complete lunacy’.
“There is no factual support,” Prof Brown said.
“The molar tooth has no evidence of dental work of any sort and this can be demonstrated by examination of the tooth … with photographs, X-rays, CT scans.”
Prof Brown accused his rival of being an attention seeker, and the two academics have publicly locked horns a number of times since the 2003 discovery.
“What is annoying as a scientist is that this hasn’t been through scientific peer review and (yet) it’s appearing in a popular book,” he said.
Asked how such an anomaly as a filled tooth could escape the attention of the fossil’s discoverers, Prof Henneberg said it was understandable that in the excitement of the discovery ‘it is easy not to notice irregularity on the tooth’s surface’.
Prof Henneberg’s book The Hobbit Trap: Money, Fame, Science and the Discovery of a New Species is co-written with John Schofield and was published last Monday, airing claims that “the hobbit case is just a recent, well-publicised, case of how factors extraneous to the pursuit of reliable knowledge can influence science and scientists.”
Yet, even now, Henneberg is ‘still not 100 per cent certain’.
“I have been setting up null hypotheses(to try to disprove his own claim) and (discussing the tooth) with dental anthropologists.”
Last week Brown sent his evidence to the journals Science and Scientific America to counter Henneberg’s claim. He said the tooth shows the signs of natural wear expected in its era.
“The enamel crown on the outside wears away and exposes the underlying softer dentine. This happened in all ore-industrial populations.”
Prof Brown has a lot riding on the disproving of Henneberg’s ‘filling’ theory- as colleague Alan Thorne, of the Australian National Univeristy, says: “If it is a tooth that has been worked on, then the whole argument is gone, finished.
Source: “Hobbit hoax – arguments flare with scepticism,” Armidale Express, 28 April 2008.
Of course, Brown is not alone.
Charles Hildebolt, a paleoanthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, who has also been working on the Flores material and has obtained his own CT scans, earlier said: “We think that it is highly unlikely that any type of filling material is in the mandibular left first molar,” he said in an e-mail. “The defect in the mandibular left first molar does not have the appearance of a cavity preparation made by a dentist in that the defect is shallow, is nonretentive and is not extended in an apical direction interproximally. There is no indication of tooth decay in any of LB1′s teeth.”