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The Poster Formerly Known as Y2A
I just read this today and it was pretty surprising, maybe this is were the legends of dwarfs and such originated. Just goes to show you how little we really know about our world.

Source: The New York Times

New Species Revealed: Tiny Cousins of Humans
By NICHOLAS WADE

Published: October 28, 2004


Once upon a time, but not so long ago, on a tropical island midway between Asia and Australia, there lived a race of little people, whose adults stood just three and a half feet high. Despite their stature, they were mighty hunters. They made stone tools with which they speared giant rats, clubbed sleeping dragons and hunted the packs of pygmy elephants that roamed their lost world.


Strangest of all, this is no fable. Skeletons of these miniature people have been excavated from a limestone cave on Flores, an island 370 miles east of Bali, by a team of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists. Reporting their find in today's issue of Nature, they assign the people to a new human species, Homo floresiensis.

The new finding is "among the most outstanding discoveries in paleoanthropology for half a century," say two anthropologists not associated with the study, Dr. Marta Mirazon Lahr and Dr. Robert Foley of the University of Cambridge, in a written commentary in the same issue.

The little Floresians lived on the island until at least 13,000 years ago, and possibly to historic times. But they were not a pygmy form of modern humans. They were a downsized version of Homo erectus, the eastern cousin of the Neanderthals of Europe, who disappeared 33,000 years ago. Their discovery means that archaic humans, who left Africa 1.5 million years earlier than modern people, survived far longer into recent times than was previously supposed.

The Indonesian island of Flores is very isolated and, before modern times, was inhabited only by a select group of animals that managed to reach it. These then became subject to unusual evolutionary forces that propelled some toward giantism and reduced the size of others.

The carnivorous lizards that reached Flores, perhaps on natural rafts, became giant-size and still survive, though now they are confined mostly to the nearby island of Komodo; they are called Komodo dragons. Elephants, because of their buoyancy, are surprisingly good swimmers; those that reached Flores evolved to a dwarf form the size of an ox.

Previous excavations by Dr. Michael J. Morwood, a member of the team that found the little Floresians, showed that Homo erectus had arrived on Flores by 840,000 years ago, to judge from the evidence of crude stone tools. Presumably the descendants of these Homo erectus became subject to the same evolutionary forces that reduced the size of the elephants. The first little Floresian, an adult female, was found in September last year, buried under 20 feet of silt that coats of the floor of the Liang Bua cave in Flores. A team of paleoanthropologists headed by Dr. Peter Brown, of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, identified the skeleton, which is not fossilized, as a very small but otherwise normal individual, similar to Homo erectus. Because the downsizing is so extreme, smaller than that in modern human pygmies, they assign it to a new species.

In a companion report Dr. Morwood, an archaeologist who is also at the University of New England, estimates that the skeleton is 18,000 years old. He has since found the remains of six more individuals in the cave, with dates ranging from 95,000 to 13,000 years ago, he said in an interview.

Also buried in the cave are a number of objects that illustrate how the little Floresians lived. There are bones of Komodo dragons, beasts 10 feet in length, and of an even larger lizard. The dragons can eat animals the size of deer, but being cold-blooded, they are sluggish at low temperatures and not so hard to kill. There are bones of the pygmy elephant, giant rat, fish and birds.

There is evidence that the Floresians knew the use of fire. And there is a suite of stone tools, considerably more sophisticated than any yet known to have been made by Homo erectus. The tools include small blades that might have been mounted on wooden shafts.

If the stone tools were made by the little Floresians, as Dr. Morwood believes, that is striking evidence of their cognitive abilities. Dr. Morwood says they must have hunted cooperatively to bring down the pygmy elephants. To conduct such hunts, and to fabricate such complex stone tools, they almost certainly had some form of language, he said.

This will be a surprising finding, if true, because the little people have brains slightly smaller than a chimpanzee and similar in size to Australopithecenes, the ape-like ancestors of the human line. Dr. Foley said he would not rule out Dr. Morwood's suggestion but noted that chimpanzees hunt cooperatively without using language. Modern humans are known to have reached Australia by at least 40,000 years ago and were probably in the general neighborhood of Flores at the same time, so it is a plausible alternative that they could have been the makers of the stone tools. "I think it's a big jump" to assume the Floresians had language, Dr. Foley said. He also noted the danger of assuming the Floresians behaved like diminutive people when their nature might in fact have been quite different.

Dr. Morwood said he had found no sign of modern humans in Flores until 11,000 years ago, so he had no basis for associating them with the tools in the Liang Bua cave. Dr. G. Philip Rightmire, a paleoanthropologist at Binghamton University in New York, said he was persuaded that the tools were made by the little Floresians.

"It's a wonderful demonstration of apparently 'archaic' humans adapting to the special conditions on Flores," Dr. Rightmire said. "I wouldn't have supposed that such small-brained people descended directly from Homo erectus would be capable of producing these artifacts, but the evidence is pretty compelling."

The new findings add to the rapidly emerging picture of Homo erectus, which has long been overshadowed by the better known Neanderthals of Europe. Like the Neanderthals, Homo erectus generally disappeared from the scene just before modern humans arrived in their territory.

The little Floresians not only survived long into the modern period but unlike most of the other archaic human populations managed to coexist with modern humans. They also demonstrate the adaptability of the human form and how readily humans conformed to the same pressures toward dwarfism that affected other island species.

Most of the extraordinary finds in paleontology have been surprising because they were so old. "What's exciting about this one is that it's so late, telling us about the processes and patterns of evolution in a way that's deeply informative," Dr. Foley said.

The Floresians of the Liang Bua region seem to have perished after an eruption from one of the island's many volcanoes about 12,000 years ago. But they may have survived until much later elsewhere on Flores, Dr. Morwood believes. Among today's Ngadha people of central Flores and the Manggarai of West Flores there are local stories of little people who lived in caves until the arrival of the Dutch traders in the 16th century.
necrolyte
I keep on thinking of the music played when Leia meets the Ewoks, and ltitle people who talk like Ewoks. "Jabbajib.. knocknoc... woooo kapang POW!!!!"
Forben
DWARFS!!!! this is just sooooo like, cool and all.

their boats are smaller, so maybe they are the result of 'the little people' mytholigies too, who knows? tongue.gif
necrolyte
"fooollow foooollow foooollow foooollow follow the yellow brick roooad!"

ITS THE MUNCHKINS!!!
lowell
NO, it is not MUNCHKINS nor dwarfs!

I recall hearing it was a Hobbit!

Like lord of the rings!
Forben
rofl, the grand local paper has done it again, their write-up headline (which is only part i read) of such an interesting discovery, had the word dwarfs in it.

even better, that same picture in sports, they had a HUGE headling for 2 int'l skaters(forget which country) had a subheadline of 2 canadian skaters, and the HUGE 1/5 page picture was of yet 2 different skaters alltogether... needless to say, i didn't read that either..... biggrin.gif
lowell
Human hobbit' of the lost world discovered
28/10/2004

By John von Radowitz

The bones of 'Human Hobbits' of the lost world have been uncovered on a remote island once populated by giant lizards and miniature elephants.

A 3ft tall "hobbit" uncovered on the Indonesian island of Flores has raised the extraordinary possibility that our human species might not be alone on Earth.

The female creature has been identified as a completely new member of the human race. But, although she lived 18,000 years ago, scientists believe her relatives survived for thousands more years on the island.
And experts have not ruled out the possibility of her descendants, or other unknown human species, still hiding in the impenetrable forests and cave systems of south-east Asia.

Mythical tales abound in the region of a race of little people that dwell on the islands of Indonesia. Dutch explorers who colonised Flores 100 years ago were told stories of a human-like creature local inhabitants called "ebu gogo."

Like the hominid whose skeletal remains have excited scientists around the world, they stood about 3ft tall.

The tales described how they could be heard "murmuring" to one another, and how, parrot-fashion, they repeated back words spoken to them. Dr Henry Gee, senior editor of scientific journal Nature, said the scientists who made the new discovery of the seven remains were now having to think again about the source of these stories. "Until they found this creature they would have dismissed them as tales of hobbits and leprechauns, but no longer," he said.

The new human, named Homo floresiensis, is a dwarf-sized descendent of another primitive species that left Africa about two million years ago. A grapefruit-sized skull and partial skeleton of a female specimen was unearthed at a cave site called Liang Bua.

The Australian team, led by Dr Peter Brown from the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, has now found several other specimens at the same site.

Whether or not there is any truth in the legends, the creature would have lived at the same time as our own branch of the human family, Homo sapiens.

It used to be thought that human evolution followed a linear path as one species gave way to another. But modern humans and Neanderthals are now known to have co-existed in Europe 30,000 years ago. Homo Floresiensis is only the second example of a different human species from our own living alongside our ancestors - but much more recent. The find, details of which were published in the Nature, has been hailed as one of the most important human origin discoveries of the last 100 years.

Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said: "This has really re-written the textbooks.
"To have this creature present less than 20,000 years ago is astonishing.

"In terms of the bigger questions of human evolution as a whole, and how complex it was and how much we still have to learn, I cannot underestimate its importance. At first, some of my colleagues were in a state of complete disbelief that such a thing could have existed."

Together with the bones, the researchers uncovered a number of delicate stone tools thought to have been used by Homo Floresiensis.

The creatures were not the only unusual inhabitants of the island. Being cut-off from the mainland, evolution ran its own course on Flores, giving rise to a "lost world" that could have come straight out of the pages of Gulliver's Travels.

Besides "hobbits", elephants the size of ponies and rats as big as dogs roamed the island and were probably hunted by Homo Floresiensis. They themselves may have been hunted by terrifying giant lizards.

Most of the prehistoric fauna on Flores was thought to have been wiped out by a volcanic eruption 12,000 years ago. But the folklore of Flores raises the intriguing possibility that its race of dwarfs may have lived on.

Dr Gee said: "Who knows, in remote patches of rain forests one may find relic populations. It's even more likely we might find some nearly extinct forms in some of these unexplored caves. It is possible that there are creatures like this around. I don't think the likelihood of finding a new species of human alive today is any less than that of finding a new antelope."

Prof Stringer said the discovery raised a plethora of questions, such as where the creatures came from, whether or not they spoke a language, and how they might have been regarded by modern humans.

It is thought that they evolved from Homo erectus, who must have crossed the sea to reach the island. But this is a mystery in itself because, although H. erectus was known to have made fire and used tools, there has never been any record of boat-building.

Another riddle is the tiny brain size of Homo Floresiensis, which at 380 millilitres is smaller than a chimpanzee's. Scientists had thought there was a brain size threshold for human intelligence which was much larger. Yet the new species clearly retained its intelligence despite shrinking to such a small size.

Scientists are now looking to see if DNA samples can be extracted from the remains, which should shed new light on the creatures.

The Australian team expects more dramatic human finds to be uncovered on other islands in south-east Asia.
STRONG;Family friend/STRONG;
The discovery: a human dwarf species on the remote Indonesian island of Flores.

The implications: smashes theory modern humans began to crowd out other upright-walking species 160,000 years ago.

What we know: they had grapefruit-sized brains but made stone tools.
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