These extraordinary claims brought out scores of critics. Maybe these were just a type of pygmybut pygmies have normal-size brains, and the hobbits’ brains were tiny. OK, so maybe the Australians had dug up a child, or maybe the skull came from someone with microencephaly, a condition that keeps the head and brain from growing properly. These questions would have been easier to answer if other scientists could have examined the fossils; unfortunately, Indonesian paleontologists snatched them up and squirreled them awayand, it turns out, damaged them.
But now Morwood and Brown and their collaborators have announced a new find in the latest issue of Nature: a jaw and other bones, from what they believe is a total of nine individuals. And it looks as though the original idea stands up: the fossils’ proportions confirm that these creatures were indeed very small, and that their skulls didn’t have the characteristics either of modern pygmies or of microcephalicstwo microcephalic skulls in such a small collection of remains would be absurdly unlikely anyway.
Another of Morwood and Brown’s theoriesthat their hobbits evolved directly from Homo erectus, which was thought to have died out a half-million or so years agowhich the critics lambasted, is now looking less likely. But their new idea is even more audacious: the hobbits, they suggest, may come directly from the Australopithecus family, which went extinct something like 2 million years ago. Their detailed argument for this notion has yet to be published, and critics are still very cautious even about embracing the idea that the hobbits represent a new species at all. But while he agrees that more evidence is needed, Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard paleontologist who composed a commentary on the new discovery for Nature, writes: "...it seems reasonable for Morwood and colleagues to stick to their original hypothesis that H. floresiensis is a new species.”