Face-to-Face with Homo Floresiensis

Dr Susan Hayes, a facial anthropologist and an honorary senior research fellow at the University of Wollongong in Australia, has reported results of the forensic facial reconstruction of mysterious Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin discovered in 2003 on the Indonesian island of Flores and nicknamed the Hobbit.

Dr Susan Hayes’ facial approximation of the female Homo floresiensis (Susan Hayes / Australian Archaeological Association)

Dr Hayes works predominantly with archaeological remains of anatomically modern humans, including the Lapita People (Vanuatu), the Amerindian Huarpe (Argentina), and the first Maori to inhabit New Zealand.

In her new study, Dr Hayes has used so-called facial approximation techniques to show how Homo floresiensis might have once looked.

“In the media it’s often called ‘facial reconstruction’, but because I’m evidence-based and work in archaeological science, we prefer the term ‘facial approximation’,” Dr Hayes said.

Dr Hayes described the facial approximation as an extraordinary challenge working on an archaic hominin.

“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. She’s not what you’d call pretty, but she is definitely distinctive,” said Dr Hayes, who presented the results on December 10 at the 2012 Conference of the Australian Archaeological Association.

“The face looked more modern than he expected,” Dr Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales, a human evolution specialist who was not involved in the reconstruction project, said in the interview with the Conversation. “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.”

The path Dr Susan Hayes took to reach her facial approximation of Homo floresiensis (Susan Hayes / Australian Archaeological Association)

“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.”

“Now the majority of researchers accepted that the hobbit was unique and not a diseased human,” he said. “But precisely where it fits in the human evolutionary tree is still to be determined.”

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Bibliographic information: Susan Hayes. Faces of the Hobbit (Homo floresiensis). Themed Session: Historical archaeology, materials conservation and forensic techniques. AAA Conference 2012; Wollongong, NSW. December 9-13, 2012