An Incredible Discovery

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  On the island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago, there have persisted stories of a small diminutive people that lived in the forest.   Scientists have recently discovered the remains of a small type of hominid in a cave on this island.  This tiny hominid stood about 3.3 feet and weighed approximately 55 pounds.  Although they were about the size of a three year old modern child, their skulls were about the size of a grapefruit which is about one third as large.   In the October 28, 2004 issue of Nature, scientists described their findings and named this hominid, Homo floresiensis.  They speculated that it was a dwarf type of Homo erectus that had perhaps reached the island as early as 95,000 years ago and only became extinct as late as 13,000 years ago.  This estimate is based partly on the presence of charred bone and stone tools found on the island.  Also based upon the presence of stone tools on the island dated as far back as 840,000 years ago, this small  human may have arrived very early on the island.


            The remains of several individuals were found in conjunction with the bones of a dwarf mammoth, Stegodon, as well as he bones of fish, frogs, snakes, tortoises, birds and rodents. “The skeleton was found in the same sediment deposits on Flores that have also been found to contain stone tools and the bones of dwarf elephants, giant rodents, and Komodo dragons, lizards that can grow to 10 feet (3 meters) and that still live today.”


                Modern humans were present in Borneo from about 43,000 years ago and in Australia from at least 40,000 years ago.  Thus from about 40,000 years ago to at least 18,000 years ago there was a period of 20,000 years of temporal overlap between modern humans and H. florensiensis.  There is a distinct possibility that there was some type of interaction between the two species but except for the persistent rumors and stories of a little people in the area there is no indication of any interaction at this time.


Island Dwarfing

Researchers are also anxious to investigate how and why the hobbits came to be so small. When scientists discovered the hobbit remains, they thought it was the skeleton of a child. There was no record of human adults that were that small. Modern pygmies are considerably taller at about 1.4 to 1.5 meters (4.6 to nearly 5 feet) tall.


"H. floresiensis presents an intriguing problem in evolutionary biology," Brown said. The most likely explanation is that, over thousands of years, the species became smaller because environmental conditions favored smaller body size. Dwarfing of mammals on islands is a well-known process and seen worldwide. Islands frequently provide a limited food supply, few predators, and few species competing for the same environmental niche. Survival would depend on minimizing daily energy requirements.


But there is no absolute proof that this is what in fact happened with this small human.

"While there are stone tools dated as far back as 840,000 years ago, no fossils of large-bodied ancestors have ever been found" on Flores, Brown said. "There is some possibility [Homo floresiensis] arrived on the island small-bodied."  Brings up the question of other rare and hidden animals; cryptozoology  Talks about hair found in deposits with H. floresiensis and speculates on the possibility that it belongs to this "hobbit" human.















Wikipedia's article Very good introduction with links.

Journal Nature--unfotunately you have to subscribe, but there are summaries