Hobbit 'cousins' focus of Te Papa talk

SOPHIE JACKMAN
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2012
bones xs
BRENT ALLOWAY

DIGGING IT: The bones of the "hobbit" species in Flores, Indonesia.

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They are short in stature with large, hairy hands and feet. But these are no fantasy creatures from Tolkien's lore.

Homo floresiensis, known as hobbits, are close relatives of modern humans, and two of the principal archaeologists involved in their discovery are giving a free public lecture at Te Papa tomorrow.

The fossilised bones of nine individuals of the hominid species were discovered in 2003 on the island of Flores in Indonesia, astonishing the scientific world and inciting a debate over their relationship to us.

From the remains, archaeologists were able to ascertain that the hobbits stood at more than one metre tall, had large feet and were capable of quite complex activities.

In their talk, Unravelling the Secrets of Homo Floresiensis, Professor Mike Morwood, from the University of Wollongong and Thomas Sutikna of the Pusat Arkeologi Nasional in Indonesia, will give their audience a vivid picture of the species.

The fossils' discovery launched a worldwide debate about whether they were a separate species, and how they were related to us.

Geologist Brent Alloway, associate professor at the school of geography, environment and earth sciences at Victoria University, organised the talk and expects attendees to gain a rare insight into cutting-edge archaeology.

"It's a remarkable modern discovery, right on our back doorstep in Southeast Asia," Dr Alloway says.

"We're starting to get a good picture of what our distant ancestors were like – how they lived and what they looked like."

There will be a replica skeleton of H floresiensis on hand, as well as various fossils and hand tools from the Indonesian sites.

The lecture is at Te Papa's Soundings Theatre at 1pm. A lecture at 3pm is at capacity, but will be streamed live online.

Dr Alloway says tomorrow's lectures will appeal to archaeology buffs of all ages.

"We hope this talk will get kids inspired to take an interest in archaeology," he says.

"Everyone wants to be an archaeologist as a kid, but now the new discoveries are closer to us than ever.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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