Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 16th, 2008
Tolkien’s hobbits walked an awful long way, but the real “hobbit”, Homo floresiensis, would not have got far.
Its flat, clown-like feet probably limited its speed to what we would consider a stroll, and kept its travels short, says Bill Jungers, an anthropologist at the State University of New York in Stony Brook.
“It’s never going to win the 100-yard dash, and it’s never going to win the marathon,” he says.
He presented his conclusion at last week’s meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Columbus, Ohio.
By analysing the nearly complete left foot of an 18,000-year-old hobbit skeleton dubbed LB1, found on the Indonesian island of Flores , Jungers’ team estimated the length of the hobbit’s feet, which were unusually large for its metre-high frame. “Sort of like a young girl wearing her mum’s shoes,” Junger says.
And because of their long feet, H. floresiensis probably had to bend its knee further back than modern humans do, resulting in a sort of high-stepped gait. “You would watch these hobbits walk and say they’re walking a little funny,” Jungers says.
The foot had other peculiar features as well. For one, its big toe was quite short compared with the others, similar to earlier hominids such as Australopithecus. However, the shape of the toes, even the short big toe, is like modern human ones, Jungers says. “It has a human morphology and an ape-like proportion,” he says.
Jungers and other researchers who claim the hobbit was a distinct species from Homo sapiens point to the foot as further evidence supporting their theory. It has been suggested that the hobbit suffered from a severe block to growth known as cretinism or a disease called microcephaly that leads to miniaturised heads.
“It puts another nail in the coffin of the disease hypothesis,” says Henry McHenry, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis who saw the presentation.
But the feet don’t solve the bigger mystery of where H. floresiensis originated, McHenry says. “It’s so strange,” he muses.
Source: “Flores ‘hobbit’ walked more like a clown than Frodo,” by Ewen Callaway, April 16, 2008, New Scientist.