Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Lawyers force renaming of 'hobbit' lecture

The lecture on a newly discovered species of "little people" will coincide with the release of the first Hobbit film. Photo / Supplied
The lecture on a newly discovered species of "little people" will coincide with the release of the first Hobbit film. Photo / Supplied

The lecture on a newly discovered species of "little people" will coincide with the release of the first Hobbit film.

A Kiwi academic's lecture on diminutive primitive humans known as "hobbits" has been renamed, under legal pressure from the company that owns the rights to JRR Tolkien's creations.

Victoria University earth scientist Brent Alloway had planned to call the free public lecture on the 1m tall human species Homo floresiensis "The Other Hobbit".

But the title had to be scrapped after lawyers for Saul Zaentz Company/Middle-earth Enterprises - which owns some rights to The Hobbit books - objected to generic use of the term "hobbit".

The lecture next month has been renamed "A newly discovered species of Little People - unravelling the legend behind Homo floresiensis".

The event at Wellington's Te Papa museum had been timed to coincide with the release of the first film in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy.

It will feature two of the principal archaeologists involved in the discovery in 2003 of Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores.

Dr Alloway, who has been been examining volcanic deposits associated with stone artefacts and fossil remains on the island, said the controversy was disappointing.

"I really want to move on from the controversy about not being able to use The Hobbit. I kind of went into this rather naively, not really knowing about these name propriety trademarks.

"All I want to deliver is something interesting to the New Zealand public, and at a time when everybody is really getting into the celebratory sense of Peter Jackson's movie, which is going to be quite a classic I'd imagine."

Homo floresiensis was nicknamed the "hobbit" because it stood just over 1m tall, had large feet and was capable of undertaking complex activities.

Dr Alloway said some people might view the planned title as being "rather opportunistic", but he did not want to dwell on the stir.

He said the lecture would give a fascinating account of a new human species which had "turned our ancestral origins completely on its head".

"It's a new dimension to our ancestral roots which we're only just starting to really begin to understand."

Dr Alloway has been to Flores twice this year to study issues such as whether the island's volcanic nature had helped the species expand.

"For instance, if you had a volcanic eruption wiping out the forest and creating a grassland where large animals can graze, it presents opportunities for Homo floresiensis to more easily hunt large animals."

Dr Alloway was also studying ash layers to trace distribution and changes in the environment.

He said one of his highlights had been finding a stone artefact that was a million years old, and then finding another even older artefact - to the surprise of the archaeologists.

"I felt at the time that everything I've ever done in my career had led me to that point, and it was a fabulous feeling - just to be able to go to a place like Flores from New Zealand."

The archaeologists to speak at the lecture are Professor Mike Morwood, from the University of Wollongong in Australia, and Thomas Sutikna, from Pusat Arkeologi Nasional in Indonesia.

- NZ Herald

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