Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Of Hobbits and Men

J.R.R. Tolkien is considered by many to be the father of modern fantasy writing. His tales of middle earth, of hobbits, orcs, trolls, wizards, and men have become classic literature and best selling movies. Could there have actually been real hobbits?

One of the most famous and enduring lines from The Lord of the Rings series is "All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost..." Certainly there is little that glitters in the discovery of fossilized remnants of bones at an archaeological dig site. The lack of sparkling luminescence does little, however, to make significant discoveries any less golden in the minds of the scientists who make unique and new discoveries while working in the field.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arda, the online guide to the works of Tolkien, the hobbits of middle Earth can be classified as this:

A mortal race almost certainly related to Men, though their origins are unknown. Their most distinguishing feature was their short stature; even the tallest Hobbits rarely exceeded four feet in height.

Originally a widespread people, hobbits were found in much of the north of Middle-earth and down the Vales of Anduin. As the Third Age passed, the Hobbits moved north and west, eventually founding the land of the Shire in III 1601.

There is much speculation as to the origin of Tolkien's concept of the hobbit folk, whether it was based upon tales prevalent in Europe of little people who once walked among men, if it was based upon faeries, or were they simply a creation of his own imagination as a writer? Whatever the case, hobbits and other things from the world Tolkien mapped for us in his books have found their way into our daily lives, with middle earth having played even into the music of Led Zeppelin, in which Gollum and Mordor were mentioned in the song "Ramble On."

So how, then, does this tie in with modern science? The answer involves the release of news from the island nation of Palau, in the Pacific, where scientists have discovered the remains of a culture that may very well have been a hobbit-like people.

The latest twist in the Hobbit story concerns the discovery of the bones and skulls of 26 individuals in caves on small islands in the Pacific nation of Palau. The fossils have been radiocarbon dated to between 1,400 and 3,000 years ago.

One male individual weighed around 43kg (94lb) while a female weighed 29kg (64lb). They would have grown to about 4ft (120cm) tall.

However, while small, their skulls had many human-like features.

This discovery has scientists and researchers divided into two camps. Some are absolutely certain that this discovery marks the proof of a race of "little people" that could be called hobbits, others remain unconvinced, arguing that this could simply have been a colony of dwarves. Further research and data must be collected and studied before any conclusive determinations can be made.

It could be fair to say, however, that in the search for a race of little peoples who lived in ancient times, such a quest might be called "hobbit" forming...

Once and Always, a Very Non-Hobbit-like American Fighting Man


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