Scientist told not to use Hobbit name

Free lecture on tiny Indonesian tribe hits discord with the Middle Earth clan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 4:35am

It was, perhaps, inevitable that Homo floresiensis, the metre-tall species of primitive human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores, would come to be widely known as "hobbits". After all, like JRR Tolkien's creation, they were "a little people, about half our height".

But a New Zealand scientist planning an event about the species has been banned from describing the ancient people as "hobbits" by representatives of the Tolkien estate.

Brent Alloway, associate professor at Victoria University, is planning a free lecture next month at which two of the archaeologists involved in the discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2003, Professor Mike Morwood and Thomas Sutikna, will speak about the species.

The talk is planned to coincide with the premiere of the film The Hobbit and Alloway had planned to call the lecture "The Other Hobbit", as Homo floresiensis is commonly known.

But when he approached the Saul Zaentz Company/Middle-earth Enterprises, which owns certain rights to The Hobbit, he was told by the group's lawyer that "it is not possible for our client to allow generic use of the trade mark Hobbit".

"I am very disappointed that we're forbidden by the representatives of the Tolkien Estate to use the word 'Hobbit' in the title of our proposed free public event … especially since the word 'Hobbit' is apparently listed in the Oxford English Dictionary [and hence apparently part of our English-speaking vocabulary]," Alloway said.

"The word 'Hobbit' [in the Tolkien context] is frequently used with apparent impunity in the written press and reference to 'Hobbit' in the fossil context is referred to in scientific literature.

"I realise I'm in unfamiliar word proprietary territory [as an earth scientist] … so I've gone for the easiest option and simply changed our event title'"

The event is now called "A newly discovered species of Little People - unravelling the legend behind Homo floresiensis.