October 31, 2004

F. floresiensis

Jemima Lewis in the Telegraph makes some telling points about journalistic iconography and scientific nomenclature:

The discovery of Homo floresiensis - the tiny, hairy humans who once lived on the Indonesian island of Flores - is great news for anthropologists, but disheartening for feminists. It was, after all, a woman whose 18,000-year-old skeleton, buried in a limestone cave, led scientists to this breakthrough. Yet the artists' impressions of the "Hobbit human" that appeared in all the newspapers was male. Very male, in fact, with swinging testicles, a six-pack and a slaughtered animal in his arms.

This is most unjust. By the sounds of things, Hobbit women were rather more vibrant than the men. The villagers of Flores, who swear there were little people living on the island until the 18th century, even have a feminine name for them: Ebu Gogo, meaning "grandmother who eats everything". The women feature much more heavily in local legend - especially their breasts, which were so pendulous that they had to be slung over the shoulder for ease of movement.

But the breasts are not the point. Whatever her body shape, the female Hobbit deserved to get her picture in the newspapers. She alerted scientists to the existence of a vanished race. For that, we should salute her: Femina floresiensis.

Posted by Mark Liberman at October 31, 2004 07:02 AM