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Hobbits found outside of Middle Earth?

A not-quite-human face from 17,000 years ago.

By Rich_Maloof Dec 12, 2012 6:29PM

It’s probably unlikely that Elijah Woods, star of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, would ever win a “sexiest man of the year” award. Especially against, say, Clooney or Beckham or Gosling. But 17,000 years ago, Elijah might have had a fighting chance.

Photo: Courtesy of Dr Susan Hayes, University of WollongongThat’s because the voters might have been humanoids who were just barely removed from Hobbits, at least physically. So suggests the work of Dr. Susan Hayes, a facial anthropologist at Australia’s University of Wollongong. Hayes recently spent eight months reconstructing the face of a species known as Homo floresiensis working with nothing more than a skull. Her completed project shows that some of our distant forebears might have resembled Frodo and Bilbo Baggins more than they resembled you and me.

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Dr. Hayes used CT scan data and 3D imaging taken of a female Homo floresiensis skull estimated to be 17,000 years old. She then employed her own 2D skills to craft an image that fit the creature’s anatomical features and bone structure. Specifically, her work incorporated highlighting areas where she determined fat and muscle would have been evident. This differed significantly from previous renderings that tended to simply drop a monkey-like face on such hominids. After meticulous detailing, Hayes developed an image that looks very Hobbit-like — so much so that researchers are calling it the Flores Hobbit, named for the location in Flores, Indonesia, where the skull was found in 2003.

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Admitting that her female subject is “not very pretty,” Hayes’ image shows an individual with high cheekbones, a very small forehead, a broad nose, and long ears. Add to that the rest of the creature’s attributes — roughly a meter tall, weighing about 70 pounds, and perhaps 30 years old — and you have the description of any number of residents of Middle Earth.

However, scientists aren’t sure yet where this Hobbit fits in with our real Earth chain of ancestors. While Homo floresiensis does look to be a distinct species rather than some Neanderthal mutant, there’s no consensus as to whether it’s an offshoot of homo erectus or perhaps a distinct but not-so-closely-related cousin. That will come with more research. For now, we’ll have to be content with the knowledge that it’s kind of, sort of, almost quaintly human. Like Elijah Wood.

Photo: Courtesy of Dr Susan Hayes, University of Wollongong

Bing: Watch The Hobbit trailer.

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