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Once you have your virtual endocast using this GeoMagic, you can manipulate it, turn it, slice it, dice it, take all kinds of measurements including volume measurements.
Obviously the Hobbit has gotten a lot of press. What would you say is the most common error that the press makes on covering this story?
Falk: That's an easy one for me. I've talked to quite a bit of media since the PNAS article came out. The error is that some people focus so much on the sensationalist aspects of the controversy itself and not enough on the techniques that were used. Many of them don't read the research itself. I've had people call me up for a phone interview, and at some point I'll say, "Well, on page such-and-such," and they'll say, "Oh, well, I haven't seen the paper." All they've picked up is something like Reuters.
On the topic of the media, was this nicknamed the Hobbit by the people who discovered it or by the press and public who picked up on it?
Falk: My impression is that it's the people who discovered it. That's common for discoverers to do that. They all nickname their finds.
What's your impression of the quickness of the media and public to pick up on this and call it the Hobbit and connect it to Lord of the Rings?
Falk: Well, that's cute. It doesn't bother me, and it's good that the name makes it more accessible. I teach big anthropology courses with a couple hundred kids, and there are a lot of big Latin names, so they appreciate the nicknames. It makes it easier for the public and the students to really get a grip. So it doesn't bother me, and it's sort of fun. But the important stuff is the specimen itself and what its place will be once things kind of sift out and we get more discoveries.
Do you think that there are more human species yet to be discovered?
Falk: Oh, yes. When you say 'species,' that's a tough one because, whenever you find a new fossil, the big question is whether or not it really is a different species. Until we get a time machine, we just can't do the obvious test to see if they can interbreed (the defining characteristic of a species). So you have different styles in approaching the fossil record. There are some people who see oodles of species, and some people who are more conservative. This discovery makes me think that there are a lot of very interesting things out there, including (Hobbit's) ancestors. People will be hunting now. They'll be hunting in the field, and they'll also be hunting in museum drawers. Often, when you have a discovery like this, people will go back and look in old dusty drawers and find something.
Human evolution stories really, really hit it big among the public like almost no other kind of science or technology story can. Why do you think that is?
Falk: Everybody's interested in "Where did I come from?" This is in the big sense--where did we come from? I just think it's intrinsically interesting. But also right now, we've got in this country the whole creationism debate, and so there are political, religious and sociological forces there also. There's some more tension in that discussion about "Where did I come from?" than there would be otherwise. You've got a confluence of things going on.
What do you think, specifically, can Homo floresiensis, or the Hobbit, tell us about us?
Falk: As for us Homo sapiens today, I'm not sure of a specific answer, but if you mean about the broader picture of human evolution and our place within it, what the Hobbit suggests is a total surprise. Nobody thought that there was any other species of human living as recently as 12,000 years ago. Hobbit herself is 18,000.
In terms of brain evolution, what my team has found from the brain case is that this creature had a really tiny brain--a third of the size of the modern brain--but a very advanced brain that was rewired. That says something about the whole debate of whether brain size or the organization of the brain is more important. The tools that are associated with these finds, and fire, suggest that it was a sophisticated brain--small but sophisticated. That suggests the bigger picture of the range of possibilities of how to evolve a better brain over time just got wider. Who knows what else we'll find out there?
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