Now you can become the hobbit specialist to rule them all

Be the envy of your friends as you dig into ancient Hobbit mysteries to unravel what happened to the real little people. Photo / File
Be the envy of your friends as you dig into ancient Hobbit mysteries to unravel what happened to the real little people. Photo / File

Yearning to be the one among your friends who knows the true ancient lore about the little people?

If you are a hobbit fan always eager to close the door of your particular hobbit-hole, pack a few taters in your travel bag and embark on the one final quest to rule them all, this enlightening archaeological journey may be just for you.

It will be awash with adventure and puzzling questions as you and others unravel perplexing secrets waiting to be unearthed.

And, unlike what followed after the long-expected party at Mr Bilbo Baggins's Bag End in the Shire, you can join this quest from the comfort of your own cosy wifi-enabled hobbit hole.

An artist's reconstruction from last year shows how scientists think the hairy, and no doubt hairy-toed,  Homo floresiensis "hobbits" looked like. Photo / AP
An artist's reconstruction from last year shows how scientists think the hairy, and no doubt hairy-toed, Homo floresiensis "hobbits" looked like. Photo / AP

Instead of relying on Gandalf with his sweeping beard and penetrating eyes to help you see through the illusions that confound the eyes of mortals navigating the difficult path to the mythical vales of Anduin, where JRR Tolkien believed the Hobbits came from, you can rely here on the powers of modern online learning.

Those opting for this journey of discovery will be guided from July 18 by archaeology professors Zenobia Jacobs and Richard "Bert" Roberts of the University of Wollongong in Australia, as they probe the incredible discovery of the remains of a female "hobbit" in the Liang Bua Cave on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003.

The course will not cost you anything, besides the enthusiasm you put in to two hours of online journeying each week, over a four-week learning quest.

The bones of the race of 1-metre tall little people, also known as homo floresiensis, were first believed to date back to between 60,000 and 100,000 years ago. New findings announced in March this year now propose that these "hobbits" became extinct around 50,000 years ago - tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

Approached by the Herald for comment about the course today the two scientists were unavailable due to the remote nature of their work, with Professor Jacobs communicating by automatic email reply that she is currently away on fieldwork, with only intermittent email access.

The two said though on the Futurelearn website, where you can register for the course, that there are no special requirements. It would be suitable for anyone, ranging from those who have just finished school and are simply curious, to people planning serious postgraduate study.

A picture provided by archaeologists last month showing the teeth of either Homo floresiensis or a related species. Photo / AP
A picture provided by archaeologists last month showing the teeth of either Homo floresiensis or a related species. Photo / AP

FutureLearn is a massive open online course (MOOC) learning platform run by The Open University in Milton Keynes, England. It offers free online courses from the world's leading universities, including our own University of Auckland.

The real "hobbits" are believed to have lived in caves (you may even call them hobbit holes, after Tolkien's Westron "Holbytla", which means "hole-builder") on Flores, before they mysteriously vanished 50,000 years ago.

The course will unravel the mystery piece by piece using a variety of scientific techniques and archaeological approaches. You will follow a dedicated team of scientists as they uncover clues that shine a light on the world in which the hobbits lived, also casting a light on many suppositions about our own origins as a species.

In your journey from the cave to the lab you will go behind the scenes with the scientists as they unearth artefacts, and learn about the processes and methods used to read buried evidence from the past.

Author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, British writer JRR Tolkien. Photo / File
Author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, British writer JRR Tolkien. Photo / File

The quest will help you understand the multidisciplinary approach to modern archaeology using scientific approaches to gather evidence, learning what stories artefacts tell us and what dating methods can be used to reveal the secrets hidden in time.

A central question the fate of these "hobbits" can answer for us is about our own origins.

Their discovery has had significant implications for the world of archaeology and beyond. The course will give you insight into the heated debates and controversy surrounding the hobbits' discovery and biological status, and challenge many assumptions about human evolution and the origins of our species.

Journey to Futurelearn to sign up for The Science of 'the Hobbit', plus a host of other courses, including by the University of Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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