Holloway has made every other existing endocast of Indonesian H. erectus specimens, as well as several of Africans and Neanderthals, so the others awaited his verdict with interest. Two things about the Java Gal struck him. First, there was a distinct asymmetry between the brain's two hemispheres. This pattern, common in many H. erectus skulls, is considered a sign of increasing specialisation for certain tasks, just as it is in modern humans. Then there was the exceptional development of a small bulging area of the frontal lobes, which in modern humans is specific to language. "I think the degree of asymmetry that I saw in Broca's Cap is as much as I've seen in a fossil hominid," says Holloway. Together, he concludes, these features indicate the woman's brain was equipped to put thoughts into words.
Not everyone was thrilled with this analysis. "Both Doug and I are sort of flabbergasted that we've had to take so much flak on this matter," says Holloway. "It's just an open speculation, and why anybody would want to disown us for that, I don't know." But the idea that ancient hominids may have been smarter than many people like to think clearly rankles. It blurs what was a crystal-clear distinction between "us" and "them". After all, stark differences in appearance and demonstrated abilities are what set H. sapiens apart.
But SM3 seems to straddle the divide, appearing even at a glance to combine features of both H. erectus and H. sapiens. It fell to Eric Delson, an anthropologist affiliated with the museum, to classify her. He decided to try a new technique that essentially creates a 3D computer representation of an object, which can then be analysed using statistical methods.