- When I was back in Flores earlier this month we heard
the most amazing tales of little, hairy people, whom they called Ebu Gogo
- Ebu meaning grandmother and Gogo meaning 'he who eats anything'. The
tales contained the most fabulous details - so detailed that you'd imagine
there had to be a grain of truth in them.
- One of the village elders told us that the Ebu Gogo ate
everything raw, including vegetables, fruits, meat and, if they got the
chance, even human meat.
- When food was served to them they also ate the plates,
made of pumpkin - the original guests from hell (or heaven, if you don't
like washing up and don't mind replacing your dinner set every week).
- The villagers say that the Ebu Gogo raided their crops,
which they tolerated, but decided to chase them away when the Ebu Gogo
stole - and ate - one of their babies.
- They ran away with the baby to their cave which was at
the foot of the local volcano, some tens of metres up a cliff face. The
villagers offered them bales of dry grass as fodder, which they gratefully
- A few days later, the villagers went back with a burning
bale of grass which they tossed into the cave. Out ran the Ebu Gogo, singed
but not fried, and were last seen heading west, in the direction of Liang
Bua, where we found the Hobbit, as it happens.
- When my colleague Gert van den Bergh first heard these
stories a decade ago, which several of the villages around the volcano
recount with only very minor changes in detail, he thought them no better
than leprechaun tales until we unearthed the Hobbit. (I much prefer Ebu
as the name of our find but my colleague Mike Morwood was insistent on
- The anatomical details in the legends are equally fascinating.
They are described as about a metre tall, with long hair, pot bellies,
ears that slightly stick out, a slightly awkward gait, and longish arms
and fingers - both confirmed by our further finds this year.
- They [the Ebu Gogo] murmured at each other and could
repeat words [spoken by villagers] verbatim. For example, to 'here's some
food', they would reply 'here's some food'. They could climb slender-girthed
trees but, here's the rub, were never seen holding stone tools or anything
similar, whereas we have lots of sophisticated artefacts in the H. floresiensis
levels at Liang Bua. That's the only inconsistency with the Liang Bua evidence.
- The women Ebu Gogo had extremely pendulous breasts, so
long that they would throw them over their shoulders, which must have been
quite a sight in full flight.
- We did ask the villagers if they ever interbred with
the Ebu Gogo. They vigorously denied this, but said that the women of Labuan
Baju (a village at the far western end of Flores, better known as LBJ)
had rather long breasts, so they must have done.
- Poor LBJ must be the butt of jokes in Flores, rather
like the Irish and Tasmanians.
- A local eruption at Liang Bua (in western Flores) may
have wiped out local hobbits around 12,000 years ago, but they could well
have persisted much later in other parts of the island. The villagers said
that the last hobbit was seen just before the village moved location, farther
from the volcano, not long before the Dutch colonists settled in that part
of central Flores, in the 19th century.
- Do the Ebu Gogo still exist? It would be a hoot to search
the last pockets of rainforest on the island. Not many such pockets exist,
but who knows. At the very least, searching again for that lava cave, or
others like it, should be done, because remains of hair only a few hundred
years old, would surely survive, snagged on the cave walls or incorporated
in deposits, and would be ideal for ancient DNA analyses.
- Interestingly, we did find lumps of dirt with black hair
in them this year in the Hobbit levels, but don't know yet if they're human
or something else. We're getting DNA testing done, which we hope will be
- - Richard "Bert" Roberts is a University of
Wollongong professor and one of the team investigating the Hobbits.
- © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.
- From Michael Goodspeed
- Dear Jeff,
- Regarding the stories about the ancient "hobbit-like"
little buggers...there seems to be some serious disagreement amongst anthropologists
about what the creatures really are (or were). Hillary Mayell of National
Geographic News writes: "Despite its smaller body size, smaller brain,
and mixture of primitive and advanced anatomical features, the new species
falls firmly within the genus Homo."
- (Link: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004
- However, an AP story from earlier today frames quite
a different picture. Notice this telling excerpt, from http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=624&nci
- "...the specimen's baffling combination of slight
dimensions and coarse features bears almost no meaningful resemblance either
to modern humans or to our large, archaic cousins.
- "They suggest that Flores Man doesn't belong in
the genus Homo at all, even if it was a recent contemporary. But they are
unsure how to classify the species.
- "'I don't think anybody can pigeonhole this into
the very simple-minded theories of what is human,' anthropologist Jeffery
Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh. 'There is no biological reason
to call it Homo. We have to rethink what it is.'"