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The Flores Hobbit’s face revealed

An Australian facial anthropologist has used forensic facial approximation techniques to show, for the first time, how the…

The hobbit’s face, according to a forensic facial approximation. University of Wollongong
An Australian facial anthropologist has used forensic facial approximation techniques to show, for the first time, how the mysterious Flores ‘hobbit’ might have once looked.

Homo floresiensis, as the hobbit is officially known, caused a storm of controversy when it was discovered in Flores, Indonesia in 2003. Some argued the hobbit was an entirely new species, while others suggested it may have simply been a diseased specimen of an existing human species.

Using techniques she has previously applied to help police solve crimes, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong and specialist facial anthropologist, Dr Susan Hayes, moulded muscle and fat around a model of the hobbit’s skull to flesh out her face.

Forensic facial approximation methods helped give an idea of how the muscle and fat intersected with the hobbit’s skull University of Wollongong

The results show a surprisingly familiar face, with high cheekbones, long ears and a broad nose.

“She’s not what you’d call pretty, but she is definitely distinctive,” Dr Hayes said in a statement.

“She’s taken me a bit longer than I’d anticipated, has caused more than a few headaches along the way, but I’m pleased with both the methodological development and the final results.”

Darren Curnoe, a human evolution specialist at the University of New South Wales, said the face looked more modern than he expected.

“The bones are really quite primitive looking and look a bit like pre-humans that lived two or three million years ago but this new construction looks, to me, surprisingly modern,” said Dr Curnoe, who was not involved in the reconstruction project.

“I think it’s really interesting to see a new approach founded in forensic science and it can actually progress the ways we can understand what Homo floresiensis looked like. What we have seen, until now, have been artistic interpretations, very beautiful ones, but I think this really takes it to a new level and gives us a more scientific and accurate view of what the hobbit looked like.”

Dr Curnoe said that now the majority of researchers accepted that the hobbit was unique and not a diseased human.

“But precisely where it fits in the human evolutionary tree is still to be determined.”

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7 Comments sorted by

  1. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Good work, Dr Curnoe. Have you conducted a similar reconstruction from homo erectus?

    1. Sunanda Creagh

      Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to David Arthur

      Hi David, thanks for commenting. Just wanted to clarify it was actually Dr Susan Hayes from University of Wollongong who reconstructed the hobbit's face. Dr Curnoe is quoted as an observer who also has expertise int he field. Sorry if my story didn't make that very clear -- have amended it now.

  2. Bruce Tabor

    Research Scientist at CSIRO

    If I were to guess where in the world this person comes from, I would have said South East Asia, eg this lady from Lombok, an island near Flores:

    To what extent are the ethnic features inferred from the skull and to what extent are they artistic license? This question bears on the mulch-regional vs out-of-Africa argument. Is the appearence of the modern people of the lesser Sunda's partly a result of interbreeding with archaic humans like homo erectus?

  3. Comment removed by moderator.

  4. Don Gibbons


    Are the H.sapiens-like nose ears and and cheek-bones of Dr Hayes' reconstruction products of allowing the bones, muscles and fascia speak for themselves, as far as they can? How many decisions had to be made about assumptions that guided the reconstruction in the face of equivocal evidence? For instance, does the fossil suggest a facial musculature more like H.sapiens, or more like a chimp, or doesn't it suggest one strongly over the other, requiring an assumption to be made. As Dr Curnoe says, she looks surprisingly modern....I guess I should read the paper. Congratulations to Dr Hayes for producing a wonderful example of careful, evidence-based reconstruction.

  5. Maciej Henneberg

    Professor of Anthropological and Comparative Anatomy at University of Adelaide

    This comment has been authored by Robert B. Eckhardt (a Professor at Penn State University) and I added to it and edited it. Here it goes:

    The Conversation (10 December 2012) reported on the forensic facial reconstruction crafted by Dr. Susan Hayes based on the skull of LB1 from Liang Bua Cave, Flores, Indonesia. The account, “The Flores Hobbit’s face revealed,” noted that Dr. Hayes “has used forensic facial reconstruction techniques to show, for the first time, how the mysterious Flores ‘hobbit…

    Read more
  6. Stuart Saunders


    I used to live on an island in the Pacific. The indigenous there had a dance which was said to be 'an apology for killing off the little people' Not too far from Flores.

    I wonder if there could be a connection?