Skip to content

Studying The Hobbit

I’ve been spending my evenings for the last few weeks doing another online course on the FutureLearn MOOC platform. This one is from the University of Wollongong (no, me neither) and is studying The Hobbit. Not, in this case, Tolkien’s book of the same name. I was forced to read that by an over-enthusiastic English teacher in my second year at secondary school, and absolutely hated it. We had to read it all together as a class, with each of us taking it in turns to read aloud a paragraph at a time. In a mixed-ability comprehensive, with some students in the class who could barely read, that was extremely painful. My teacher managed not only to put me off all of Tolkien, but she butchered Charles Dickens the same way too, which is a real shame as I expect that I’d probably have quite enjoyed both authors if I’d discovered them in my own time and at my own speed. As it is, I actively avoid both of them.

This course that I’m doing is on the archaeology and paleo-anthropology of the hominid Homo Floresiensis. The academics leading the course were instrumental in digging up the fossilised skeleton of an extinct human species colloquially known as “the Hobbit” because it was only just over a metre tall, with a tiny head and proportionately over-big feet. I remember reading about it when the fossils were first discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores several years ago – there was a lot of controversy over the dating and whether it was, as the discoverers claimed, a completely new species of human, or just an anatomically modern person with microcephally or a congenital growth disorder. The course is doing a good job of explaining the new dating evidence, and pointing out the features which make it clear that this really was an archaic human species that most probably underwent a process of “island dwarfism” and shrunk in stature when in was isolated on an island with limited natural resources. It is probably only distantly related to us, but interestingly it was probably still living on Flores when anatomically-modern humans came through Indonesia on their way to colonising Australia.

I’m finding the course very interesting and I’m learning a lot about the human evolutionary tree. It’s a bit of a canter through years of painstaking multi-disciplinary research, but it’s well worth the investment of a couple of evenings a week.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. pauld | 4 December 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Wollongong, i know that, if its Wollongong in Aus then i got relatives out there, its in south east corner bit.

    If your studying anthropology, theres some Neandethals up here in Cumbria, i saw one yesterday in PO, thought he was going to rob it !

  2. Gillian | 4 December 2017 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    That’s the one, yes. There’s apparently a world-ranking research university there. I’m afraid my Aussie geography is sadly lacking.