Homo Floresiensis

KeyserXSoze

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#1
http://uk.fc.yahoo.com/041027/46/f5ex9.html
Details of the discovery by scientists working on a remote Indonesian island, who say they have uncovered the bones of a human dwarf species marooned for eons...
http://www.heraldsun.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5478,11207895%255E663,00.html
Mini-human find
Michelle Pountney
28oct04

A NEW species of human "hobbits" who grew barely a metre tall has been discovered on a remote Indonesian island.

Stunned Australian scientists found the skeleton of a fully grown female, which has led to the classification of a new species of ancient human.
The chance find has astonished paleontologists because the human-like dwarf species lived as recently as 12,000 years ago -- and modern man is believed to have colonised the area as long as 50,000 years ago.

The scientists have pieced together an image of a hairless, dark-skinned dwarf species with a head the size of a grapefruit, a retreating forehead, sunken eyes, a flat nose, large teeth, and virtually no chin.

They found the skeleton in a cave on the island of Flores in September last year and have since found bones from other mini-humans, now scientifically classified as homo floresiensis.

"We now have the remains of at least seven hobbit-sized individuals at the cave site so the skeleton cannot be some kind of freak," said Professor Bert Roberts, from Wollongong University.

Scientists regard Flores -- between Bali and Timor -- as a kind of Lost World.

They believe the hobbits fit in with other bizarre extinct fauna from the island, including a dwarf form of the primitive elephant known as the stegodon, full-sized komodo dragons and giant lizards.

They believe a catastrophic volcanic eruption probably wiped out the tiny race.

Fully grown hobbit adults would have been about the size of a modern four-year-old.

The skeleton also revealed the species had short legs and long arms.

They had chimpanzee-sized brains but used stone tools and hunted like modern humans.

Scientists believe the adult female was about 30 years old and probably died of natural causes about 18,000 years ago. She probably slumped into a muddy pool, and was covered quickly by sediment.

They think she descended from the full-sized homo erectus from which homo sapiens, or modern human, is also descended.

Professor Roberts said it was almost certain that humans would have run into their hobbit cousins on the island. "These people were during our time. We would have bumped into these people looking completely different and thought 'What are they?' "

Associate Professor Peter Brown, from the University of New England, said the skeleton had profound ramifications.

"If you told me an alien space craft had landed in a field in Flores I would have been less surprised," he said.

"This overturns everything I have thought. It begs the question -- what else are we going to find?

"People of this body size were supposed to be extinct three million years ago. We missed them by so little in time. (In evolutionary terms) they were alive yesterday."
 
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#2
This is really shockingly important and if proven could just about blow some theories of modern human out of the water.

Flores is very important in a palaeontological way because it is beyond the Wallace Line so native faunas tend to more unusal than those that could have migrated over land. The dwarf elephants (and I believe giant rats) could have got their by swimming (or on flotsam for the rats). and evolved on their unique evolutionary trajectories because of the subsequent isolation from the larger gene pool - there are lot sof endemic island faunas around (especially dwarf elephants and mammoths).

A number of finds (going back 50 years) have suggested a Lower Palaeolithic presence on Flores but the debate has really only hotted up recently with some good dates and further excavation showing the antiquity of the finds. I'm unsure anyone would have bet that hominids would be found showing isolated evolution!!! And such a late date!!!

Of course this also has implications for cryptozoology, etc.

I wonder if it has been published yet?

I'll throw some Flores references in later.
 

KeyserXSoze

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#3
More...

http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/articles/2004/10/27/news/latest_news/1dec73fbe8c5d92986256f3a0059e4b4.txt
Scientists find prehistoric dwarf human skeleton with puzzling traits on Pacific island
10/27/2004 11:21:53 AM
By JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA
AP Science Writer

In a breathtaking discovery, scientists working on a remote Indonesian island say they have uncovered the bones of a human dwarf species marooned for eons while modern man rapidly colonized the rest of the planet.

One tiny specimen, an adult female measuring about 3 feet tall, is described as "the most extreme" figure to be included in the extended human family. Certainly, she is the shortest.

This hobbit-sized creature appears to have lived as recently as 18,000 years ago on the island of Flores, a kind of tropical Lost World populated by giant lizards and miniature elephants.

She is the best example of a trove of fragmented bones that account for as many as seven of these primitive individuals. Scientists have named the new species Homo floresiensis, or Flores Man. The specimens' ages range from 95,000 to 12,000 years old.

The discovery has astonished anthropologists unlike any in recent memory. Flores Man is a totally new creature that was fundamentally different from modern humans. Yet it lived until the threshold of recorded human history, probably crossing paths with the ancestors of today's islanders.

"This finding really does rewrite our knowledge of human evolution," said Chris Stringer, who directs human origins studies at the Natural History Museum in London. "And to have them present less than 20,000 years ago is frankly astonishing."

Flores Man was hardly formidable. His grapefruit-sized brain was about a quarter the size of the brain of our species, Homo sapiens. It is closer in size to the brains of transitional prehuman species in Africa more than 3 million years ago.

Yet evidence suggests Flores Man made stone tools, lit fires and organized group hunts for meat.

Just how this primitive, remnant species managed to hang on is unclear. Geologic evidence suggests a massive volcanic eruption sealed its fate some 12,000 years ago, along with other unusual species on the island.

Still, researchers say the perseverance of Flores Man smashes the conventional wisdom that modern humans began to systematically crowd out other upright-walking species 160,000 years ago and have dominated the planet alone for tens of thousands of years.

And it demonstrates that Africa, the acknowledged cradle of humanity, does not hold all the answers to persistent questions of how -- and where -- we came to be.

"It is arguably the most significant discovery concerning our own genus in my lifetime," said anthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University, who reviewed the research independently.

Discoveries simply "don't get any better than that," proclaimed Robert Foley and Marta Mirazon Lahr of Cambridge University in a written analysis.

To others, the specimen's baffling combination of slight dimensions and coarse features bears almost no meaningful resemblance either to modern humans or to our large, archaic cousins.

They suggest that Flores Man doesn't belong in the genus Homo at all, even if it was a recent contemporary. But they are unsure how to classify the species.

"I don't think anybody can pigeonhole this into the very simple-minded theories of what is human," anthropologist Jeffery Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh. "There is no biological reason to call it Homo. We have to rethink what it is."

Details of the discovery appear in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

Researchers from Australia and Indonesia found the partial skeleton 13 months ago in a shallow limestone cave known as Liang Bua. The cave, which extends into a hillside for about 130 feet, has been the subject of scientific analysis since 1964.

The female skeleton and fragments from the six other individuals are being stored in a laboratory in Jakarta, Indonesia. The cave, which now is surrounded by coffee farms, is fenced off and patrolled by guards.

Near the skeleton were stone tools and animal remains, including teeth from a young stegodon, or prehistoric dwarf elephant, as well as fish, birds and rodents. Some of the bones were charred, suggesting they were cooked.

Excavations are continuing. In 1998, stone tools and other evidence found on Flores suggested the presence 900,000 years ago of another early human, Homo erectus. The tools were found a century after the celebrated discovery in the 1890s of big-boned H. erectus fossils in eastern Java.

Now, researchers suggest H. erectus spread to remote Flores and throughout the region, perhaps on bamboo rafts. Caves on surrounding islands are the target of future studies, they said.

Researchers suspect that Flores Man probably is an H. erectus descendant that was squeezed by evolutionary pressures.

Nature is full of mammals -- deer, squirrels and pigs, for example -- living in marginal, isolated environments that gradually dwarf when food isn't plentiful and predators aren't threatening.

On Flores, the Komodo dragon and other large meat-eating lizards prowled. But Flores Man didn't have to worry about violent human neighbors.

This is the first time that the evolution of dwarfism has been recorded in a human relative, said the study's lead author, Peter Brown of the University of New England in Australia.

Scientists are still struggling to identify its jumbled features.

Many say its face and skull features show sufficient traits to be included in the Homo family that includes modern humans. It would be the eighth species in the Homo category.

George Washington's Wood, for example, finds it "convincing."

Others aren't sure.

For example, they say the skull is wide like H. erectus. But the sides are rounder and the crown traces an arc from ear to ear. The skull of H. erectus has steeper sides and a pointed crown, they said.

The lower jaw contains large, blunt teeth and roots like Australopithecus, a prehuman ancestor in Africa more than 3 million years ago. The front teeth are smaller than modern human teeth.

The eye sockets are big and round, but they don't carry a prominent browline.

The shinbone in the leg shares similarities with apes.

"I've spent a sleepless night trying to figure out what to do with this thing," said Schwartz. "It makes me think of nothing else in this world."

Associated Press writers Emma Ross in London and Chris Brummit in Jakarta contributed to this report.

AP-CS-10-27-04 1213EDT
Exciting stuff, I hope they find more. :)
 
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#4
More info:

Scientists find prehistoric skeletons on Pacific island


Following for release at 1 p-m, Eastern time DENVER (AP) _ Scientists say they've discovered the bones of a prehistoric human dwarf species -- a species that lived on a remote Indonesian island even as modern man thrived.

The people appear to have lived on the island of Flores somewhere between 12-thousand and 95-thousand years ago.

One adult female specimen was about three feet tall.

Researchers say the brains of the so-called Flores Man were about a quarter the size of those of Homo sapiens. Yet evidence suggests they made stone tools, lit fires and organized hunts.

Whether the species ever interacted with modern man is unknown. Geologic evidence suggests a volcanic eruption about 12-thousand years ago wiped out the species.

Details of the discovery appear in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

--------------
(Preceding for release at 1 p-m, Eastern time)

Copyright 2004 Associated Press.
http://www.wkyt.com/Global/story.asp?S=2487546

The date range makes more sense.
 
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#5
And another:

Tiny human is big news

27/10/2004 08:28 - (SA)

Paris - In one of the most spectacular fossil finds in decades, anthropologists say they have found the bones of a tiny human who is a twig in mankind's family tree.

The height of a chimpanzee and with a skull the size of a grapefruit, the wee hominid lived around 18 000 years ago on the remote eastern Indonesian island of Flores, they say.

He is believed to be an extinct Asian offshoot of Homo erectus, the forerunners of Homo sapiens, as anatomically modern man is called.

But he was so dramatically different from either H erectus or H sapiens that he should be classified as a separate species of Homo, said the team report on Thursday in the British weekly scientific journal Nature.

He measured just a metre or so high and had a brain size of 380 cc, just a quarter of modern man's.

They have dubbed the hominid Homo floresiensis, "Man of Flores".

He is the smallest of the 10 known species of the genus Homo, the hominid that arose out of Africa about 2.5 million years ago.

Their theory, based on the previous discovery of stone tools on Flores, is that H erectus arrived on Flores about 800 000 years ago and became genetically marooned from the rest of mankind.

Over thousands of years, evolutionary pressure caused the colony to shrink in height - paucity of food and over-population favoured the survival of smaller individuals, whose genes were then passed on to their infants.

"We interpret H floresiensis as a relict lineage [of Homo] that reached, and was then preserved on, a Wallacean island refuge," say the authors, led by Peter Brown of University New England in Australia.

"In isolation, these populations underwent protacted, endemic change."

Questions remain

As the millennia passed, Homo erectus petered out in the rest of world, to be replaced by taller hominids with bigger brains.

The most successful was H sapiens, which strode out of Africa about 150 000 years ago and eventually conquered the planet, becoming the only living species of Homo today.

H sapiens migrated across southern Asia between 100 000 and 50 000 years ago, according to a conventional scenario.

He then forked northeast, crossing over into the Americas via island stepping-stones to Alaska, and also southeast, to colonise the Indonesian archipelago, the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, according to a popular scenario.

So at some point, H sapiens also showed up on Flores - possibly living there for tens of thousand years alongside H floriensis.

What happened then is one of the big unanswerable questions, says Brown's team.

It is impossible to know how the two species interacted. Did H sapiens slaughter its smaller neighbours? Or did H floresiensis eventually become extinct because it could no longer compete for food against its bigger cousins?

Another question is whether the two species may have interbred, possibly adding to the genetic mix that is H sapiens today.

That puzzle also applies to the Neanderthals, the hominids who lived in Europe, parts of Central Asia and the Middle East for some 170 000 years until they inexplicably disappeared around 28 000-30 000 years ago.

"The find is startling... among the most outstanding discoveries in palaeo-anthropology for half a century," University of Cambridge anthropologists Marta Mirazon Lahr and Robert Foley said.

"It is breathtaking to think that such a different species [of hominid] existed so recently," they said. "(...) Our global dominance may be far more recent than we thought."
http://www.news24.com/News24/Technology/News/0,,2-13-1443_1611318,00.html
 

KeyserXSoze

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#6
New Scientist version

http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99996588
Tiny new species of human unearthed

18:00 27 October 04

NewScientist.com news service

The remains of a tiny and hitherto unknown species of human that lived as recently as 13,000 years ago have been discovered on an Indonesian island.

The discovery has been heralded as the most important palaeoanthropological find for 50 years, and has radically altered the accepted picture of human evolution.

The skull and bones of one adult female, and fragments from up to six other specimens, were found in the Liang Bua limestone caves on Flores Island, which lies at the eastern tip of Java.

The female skeleton, known as LB1 - or by the nickname "Ebu" - has been assigned to a new species within the genus Homo - Homo floresiensis. Examination of the remains shows members of the species stood just 1 metre tall and had a brain no bigger than a grapefruit.

A handful of stone tools from the same period were also found in the caves, along with the bones and teeth of several dwarf stegodons, an ancestor of the modern elephant. Other animal remains, including rats, bats and fish, show signs that they were cooked around the time H. floresiensis inhabited in the caves.

Jaw-dropping

Instead of following a simple evolutionary path culminating in modern humans - Homo sapiens - the discovery of LB1 suggests early humans branched into many more forms than previously thought - some of which survived until very recently. The find also shows that small-brained humans could evolve without losing much of their intelligence.

"It is literally jaw-dropping," says Bernard Wood, an anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington DC, US. "The implications for the evolution of the [human] brain are among the most interesting."

"It raises the whole issue of what it is to be human, or a member of the genus Homo," adds Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London, UK. "And shows how little we really know about human evolution."

Homo sapiens are thought to have colonised Flores island between 55,000 and 35,000 years ago, meaning they must have lived alongside H. floresiensis for tens of thousands of years.

Worn molars

Indonesian archaeologists have dug at the Liang Bua cave site for the past 20 years, so at first the small skull misled the excavation team.

"We thought the skull and the mandible was from a child," says excavation site director Thomas Sutikna of the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology, who was there when the discovery was made in September 2003. "But after a week, we checked the teeth and saw that they were already worn, and that the molars had erupted, so she was more than 20 years old."

The authenticity of the remains has been confirmed by three-dimensional X-ray images which revealed the internal structure of the skull of LB1, something that would be virtually impossible to fake.

Accelerator mass spectrometry dating suggests that LB1's remains are 18,000 years old. But New Scientist has learned that some bone fragments could be as young as 13,000 years old. The oldest remains from the site are 78,000 and 94,000 years old, respectively.

This means H. floresiensis survived well beyond the last Neanderthals, which are thought to have disappeared from Europe and western Asian about 28,000 years ago.

Splendid isolation

"The most remarkable thing is that there was a time, not so long ago, when two very different human species walked the planet," says Peter Brown of the University of New England, Australia, who lead the team that made the discovery.

H. floresiensis is thought to have descended from a population that became marooned on Flores during the last few hundred thousand years. Its tiny size was probably an adaptation to isolated island conditions, where a low calorie diet and the lack of large predators made smaller physical characteristics advantageous.

There is no evidence the Flores was ever linked by land to other parts of south-east Asia, so the ancestors of this species might have used boats or rafts to reach it. But the fact this population evidently became isolated suggests that they may have relied on temporary land links to first reach the island.

What caused the demise of H. floresiensis is unknown. It is possible that they were out-competed for food and other resources by H. sapiens or that they were wiped out by a volcanic eruption about 12,000 years ago.

Journal reference: Nature (vol 431, p 1055, p 1087)
 
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'Hobbit' joins human family tree

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3948165.stm

'Hobbit' joins human family tree

Scientists have discovered a new and tiny species of human that lived in Indonesia at the same time our own ancestors were colonising the world.
The new species - dubbed "the Hobbit" due to its small size - lived on Flores island until at least 12,000 years ago.

The fact that little people feature in the legends of modern Flores islanders suggests we might have to take tales of Bigfoot and the Yeti more seriously.

Details of the sensational find are described in the journal Nature.

Australian archaeologists made the discovery while digging at a site called Liang Bua, one of numerous limestone caves on Flores.

The remains of the partial skeleton were found at a depth of 5.9m. At first, the researchers thought it was the body of a child. But further investigation revealed otherwise.

Wear on the teeth and growth lines on the skull confirm it was an adult, features of the pelvis identify it as female and a leg bone confirms that it walked upright like we do.

"When we got the dates back from the skeleton and we found out how young it was, one anthropologist working with us said it must be wrong because it had so many archaic [primitive] traits," said co-discoverer Mike Morwood, associate professor of archaeology at the University of New England, Australia.

King of the swingers?

The 18,000-year-old specimen, known as Liang Bua 1 or LB1, has been assigned to a new species called Homo floresiensis. It was about one metre tall with long arms and a skull the size of a large grapefruit.

The researchers have since found remains belonging to six other individuals from the same species.

LB1 shared its island with a pony-sized dwarf elephant called Stegodon, a golden retriever-sized rat, giant tortoises and huge lizards - including Komodo dragons.

Chris Stringer, head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum said the long arms were an intriguing feature and might even suggest H. floresiensis spent much of its time in the trees.

"We don't know this. But if there were Komodo dragons about you might want to be up in the trees with your babies where it's safe. It's something for future research, but the fact they had long arms is at least suggestive," Professor Stringer told BBC News Online.

H. floresiensis probably evolved from another species called Homo erectus, whose remains have been discovered on the Indonesian island of Java.

The ancestor of the small hominid, Homo erectus, may have arrived on Flores about one million years ago, evolving its tiny physique in the isolation provided by the island.

What is surprising about this is that Homo erectus must have made it to Flores by boat. Yet building craft for travel on open water is traditionally thought to have been beyond the intellectual abilities of this member of the human family.

Legendary creatures

Even more intriguing is the fact that Flores' inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo.

The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to "murmuring" to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.

"There have always been myths about small people - Ireland has its leprechauns and Australia has the Yowies. I suppose there's some feeling that this is an oral history going back to the survival of these small people into recent times," said co-discoverer Peter Brown, an associate professor of archaeology at New England.

If so, the legends might relate real stories of interaction between modern humans and H. floresiensis on Flores. The last evidence of this human at Liang Bua dates to 12,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption snuffed out much of Flores' unique wildlife.

Yet there are hints H. floresiensis could have lived on until much later on other parts of the island. The myths say Ebu Gogo were alive when Dutch explorers arrived a few hundred years ago and the very last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to 100 years ago.

But Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature magazine, goes further. He speculates that species like H.floresiensis might still exist, somewhere in the unexplored tropical forest of Indonesia.

"The uniqueness of the human lineage is a substantial foundation of our religion, our ethics, even our science. This find challenges that substantially," said Dr Gee.

Textbook rewrite

Professor Stringer said the find "rewrites our knowledge of human evolution." He added: "To have [this species] present 12,000 years ago is frankly astonishing."

Homo floresiensis might have evolved its small size in response to the scarcity of resources on the island.

"When creatures get marooned on islands they evolve in new and unpredictable courses. Some species grow very big and some species grow very small," Dr Gee explained.

The presence of Stegodon remains - particularly the teeth of juveniles - in the same deposits as H. floresiensis suggests they may have hunted these dwarf elephants. Some smaller animal remains in Liang Bua cave are charred, perhaps by cooking.

Miniature stone tools have been found in association with the hominid remains. They are just the right size for the diminutive H. floresiensis to have made and used. And the tools' sophistication has amazed some scientists given the human's small brain size of 380cc (around the same size as a chimpanzee).

"The whole idea that you need a particular brain size to do anything intelligent is completely blown away by this find," Dr Gee commented.

Because the remains are relatively recent and not fossilised, scientists are even hopeful they might yield DNA. Genetic information from this descendent of Homo erectus could provide an entirely new perspective on the evolution of the human lineage.
[Emp edit: Split from orang pendek thread and merged here.]
 

MrRING

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#9
SO does this mean there are three types of humaniod creature that has walked the earth - humans, neatherthals, and the Floresiensis?

Also, if there were little people communities in Europe, would we even recognize them?
 

rossba1

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It really does change an awful lot. There are going to be three or four papers on it in Nature on monday.
Its incredible to think that only 30,000 years ago we shared the planet with at least two other sentient species of Homo.
Apparently the palaeontological community have known about it for a while. It still is an absolutely amazing find.
 

KeyserXSoze

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Puts notions of 'little people' in folklore in a new light.

Nature.com has a special on this, which can now be found here: http://www.nature.com/news/specials/flores/index.html

Shorter version is here: http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041025/full/4311029a.html
Little lady of Flores forces rethink of human evolution
Rex Dalton
Dwarf hominid lived in Indonesia just 18,000 years ago.

A new human-like species - a dwarfed relative who lived just 18,000 years ago in the company of pygmy elephants and giant lizards - has been discovered in Indonesia.

Skeletal remains show that the hominins, nicknamed 'hobbits' by some of their discoverers, were only one metre tall, had a brain one-third the size of that of modern humans, and lived on an isolated island long after Homo sapiens had migrated through the South Pacific region.

"My jaw dropped to my knees," says Peter Brown, one of the lead authors and a palaeoanthropologist at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia.

I nearly dropped to my knees at one point examining the specimen.
Paleoanthropologist Peter Brown
University of New England in Armidale, Australia.

The find has excited researchers with its implications - if unexpected branches of humanity are still being found today, and lived so recently, then who knows what else might be out there? The species' diminutive stature indicates that humans are subject to the same evolutionary forces that made other mammals shrink to dwarf size when in genetic isolation and under ecological pressure, such as on an island with limited resources.

The new species, reported this week in Nature1,2, was found by Australian and Indonesian scientists in a rock shelter called Liang Bua on the island of Flores. The team unearthed a near-complete skeleton, thought to be a female, including the skull, jaw and most teeth, along with bones and teeth from at least seven other individuals. In the same site they also found bones from Komodo dragons and an extinct pygmy elephant called Stegodon.

The hominin bones were not fossilized, but in a condition the team described as being like "mashed potatoes", a result of their age and the damp conditions. "The skeleton had the consistency of wet blotting paper, so a less experienced excavator might have trashed the find," says Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong, Australia.

"Only the Indonesians were present at the actual moment of discovery - the Australian contingent had departed back to Oz," says Roberts. He credits Thomas Sutikna of the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta for the excellent handling of the samples. The success has inspired national pride at the centre, the researchers say. "This is very important for Indonesian society," says co-author R. P. Soejono.

It's the most extreme example ever found of human adaptation.
Archaeologist Robert Foley
University of Cambridge, UK

The discovery is prompting increased scrutiny of sites on other Southeast Asian islands, both to look for more of the same species and to place it in context with Homo sapiens and Homo erectus, our closest relative. Homo erectus was found to have lived on the nearby island of Java as long as 1.6 million years ago; the team suggests that the Flores hominins may be their descendants.

Dating more bones could help determine whether the species was a short-lived branch of human evolution or survived for longer. Preliminary dating places it at about 70,000 years ago, but it may extend back 800,000 years. "We were hoping we might find a little hominin from that early," says author Michael Morwood, an archaeologist at the University of New England.

In the meantime, researchers are hoping to find DNA in the bones, which would help to clarify the relationships between species. DNA has previously been extracted from European Neanderthals living in the same time period. But they have so far failed to find DNA in the teeth of the Stegodon found in the same cave, says Brown.

Additional reporting by Michael Hopkin.
 
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#12
Mr. R.I.N.G. said:
SO does this mean there are three types of humaniod creature that has walked the earth - humans, neatherthals, and the Floresiensis?

Also, if there were little people communities in Europe, would we even recognize them?
It makes at least 4 groups when we emerged from Africa (aroudn 100,000 years ago):

1. Anatomically modern humans

2. These finds

3. Neanderthals

4. Homoe erectus - dates for the most recent finds around around (or under) 100,000 years old.

I doubt there were any "small people" in Europe as this is a very specific set of circumstances but as no one could have predicted this........

Nature also havea special paged foucsed on the Flores finds here:

http://www.nature.com/nature/focus/flores/
 

rossba1

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#13
Im just waiting to see what the creationists come up with for this one :D
heres some pics of the hobbit in comparison with a modern human
 
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#14
I really should raise my earl objections to them being called hobbits too ;)

----------------
Nature have another special page too:

http://www.nature.com/news/specials/flores/

with free articles and interviews:

Dalton, R. (2004) Little lady of Flores forces rethink of human evolution.
http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041025/full/4311029a.html

Hopkin, M. (2004) The Flores find.
http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041025/full/041025-4.html

Stringer, C. (2004) A stranger from Flores.
http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041025/full/041025-3.html

Henry Gee (2004) Flores, God and Cryptozoology
http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041025/full/041025-2.html
 
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Anonymous

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re: calling them hobbits in the articles

I actually thought it was a brilliant move. I am sure it quadrupled the number of people to actually read the article. And it worked too, this story has already popped up in the strangest message boards.

Also, I am sure the Creationists will take the stance that they are far, far removed from actual Homo Sapiens and will probably color them "Super Smart Monkey's."

Robert
 

littleblackduck

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#18
I thought the Platypus story was amazing!

:D

Maybe this should have been posted in the cryptozoology forum! The Bigfoot/Sasquatch people are going to be howling at the lunar eclipse tonight!

That makes three human species as recently as 30,000-12,000 years ago.

Some Neanderthals in Eastern Europe might have survived into the 20,000s B.P (which is measured from 1954, by the way).

Good Quality DNA from other human species would be worth its weight in Californium--pre-1980 prices!
 
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#19
Re: I thought the Platypus story was amazing!

littleblackduck said:
Some Neanderthals in Eastern Europe might have survived into the 20,000s B.P (which is measured from 1954, by the way).
Its doubtful - eastern and central Europe was one of the first places in Europe to be occupied by modern humans. The last Neanderthals probably died out in Spain around 28,000 years ago (its also possible that some finds may turn up at other peripheries like the UK - now that would be fun too).
 

Rrose_Selavy

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#20
'Hobbit' joins human family tree

MODs can you merge or delete this =- I've just seem the other thread. but it won't let me delete this one now - no permssion to access for some reason.


[Emp edit: Your wish is my command.]


'Hobbit' joins human family tree
Scientists have discovered a new and tiny species of human that lived in Indonesia at the same time our own ancestors were colonising the world.
The three-foot (one-metre) tall species - dubbed "the Hobbit" - lived on Flores island until at least 12,000 years ago.

The fact that little people feature in the legends of modern Flores islanders suggests we might have to take tales of Leprechauns and Yeti more seriously.

Details of the sensational find are described in the journal Nature.


The whole idea that you need a particular brain size to do anything intelligent is completely blown away by this find
Dr Henry Gee, Nature

The discovery has been hailed as one of the most significant of its type in decades.
Australian archaeologists unearthed the bones while digging at a site called Liang Bua, one of numerous limestone caves on Flores.

The remains of the partial skeleton were found at a depth of 5.9m. At first, the researchers thought it was the body of a child. But further investigation revealed otherwise.

Wear on the teeth and growth lines on the skull confirm it was an adult, features of the pelvis identify it as female and a leg bone confirms that it walked upright like we do.

"When we got the dates back from the skeleton and we found out how young it was, one anthropologist working with us said it must be wrong because it had so many archaic [primitive] traits," said co-discoverer Mike Morwood, associate professor of archaeology at the University of New England, Australia.

King of the swingers?

The 18,000-year-old specimen, known as Liang Bua 1 or LB1, has been assigned to a new species called Homo floresiensis . It was about one metre tall with long arms and a skull the size of a large grapefruit.

The researchers have since found remains belonging to six other individuals from the same species.

LB1 shared its island with a golden retriever-sized rat, giant tortoises and huge lizards - including Komodo dragons - and a pony-sized dwarf elephant called Stegodon which the "hobbits" probably hunted.


Chris Stringer, head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum said the long arms were an intriguing feature and might even suggest H. floresiensis spent much of its time in the trees.
"We don't know this. But if there were Komodo dragons about you might want to be up in the trees with your babies where it's safe. It's something for future research, but the fact they had long arms is at least suggestive," Professor Stringer told BBC News Online.

Studies of its hands and feet, which have not yet been described, may shed light on this question, he added.

H. floresiensis probably evolved from another species called Homo erectus , whose remains have been discovered on the Indonesian island of Java.

Homo erectus may have arrived on Flores about one million years ago, evolving its tiny physique in the isolation provided by the island.

What is surprising about this is that this species must have made it to Flores by boat. Yet building craft for travel on open water is traditionally thought to have been beyond the intellectual abilities of Homo erectus .

Legendary creatures

Even more intriguing is the fact that Flores' inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo.

The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to "murmuring" to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.

"There have always been myths about small people - Ireland has its Leprechauns and Australia has the Yowies. I suppose there's some feeling that this is an oral history going back to the survival of these small people into recent times," said co-discoverer Peter Brown, an associate professor of archaeology at New England.


When we got the dates back from the skeleton and we found out how young it was, one anthropologist working with us said it must be wrong
Mike Morwood, University of New England

The last evidence of this human at Liang Bua dates to just before 12,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption snuffed out much of Flores' unique wildlife.
Yet there are hints H. floresiensis could have lived on much later than this. The myths say Ebu Gogo were alive when Dutch explorers arrived a few hundred years ago and the very last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to 100 years ago.

But Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature magazine, goes further. He speculates that species like H.floresiensis might still exist, somewhere in the unexplored tropical forest of Indonesia.

Textbook rewrite

Professor Stringer said the find "rewrites our knowledge of human evolution." He added: "To have [this species] present 12,000 years ago is frankly astonishing."

Homo floresiensis might have evolved its small size in response to the scarcity of resources on the island.

"When creatures get marooned on islands they evolve in new and unpredictable courses. Some species grow very big and some species grow very small," Dr Gee explained.


The sophistication of stone tools found with the "hobbit" has surprised some scientists given the human's small brain size of 380cc (around the same size as a chimpanzee).
"The whole idea that you need a particular brain size to do anything intelligent is completely blown away by this find," Dr Gee commented.

Because the remains are relatively recent and not fossilised, scientists are even hopeful they might yield DNA, which could provide an entirely new perspective on the evolution of the human lineage.


Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/sci/tech/3948165.stm

Published: 2004/10/27 22:15:52 GMT

© BBC MMIV
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
#21
'Hobbit' joins human family tree

doesn't add much but here's the BBC coverage

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3948165.stm


Scientists have discovered a new and tiny species of human that lived in Indonesia at the same time our own ancestors were colonising the world.
The three-foot (one-metre) tall species - dubbed "the Hobbit" - lived on Flores island until at least 12,000 years ago.


The fact that little people feature in the legends of modern Flores islanders suggests we might have to take tales of Leprechauns and Yeti more seriously.

Details of the sensational find are described in the journal Nature.

The discovery has been hailed as one of the most significant of its type in decades.

Australian archaeologists unearthed the bones while digging at a site called Liang Bua, one of numerous limestone caves on Flores.

The remains of the partial skeleton were found at a depth of 5.9m. At first, the researchers thought it was the body of a child. But further investigation revealed otherwise.

Wear on the teeth and growth lines on the skull confirm it was an adult, features of the pelvis identify it as female and a leg bone confirms that it walked upright like we do.

"When we got the dates back from the skeleton and we found out how young it was, one anthropologist working with us said it must be wrong because it had so many archaic [primitive] traits," said co-discoverer Mike Morwood, associate professor of archaeology at the University of New England, Australia.

King of the swingers?

The 18,000-year-old specimen, known as Liang Bua 1 or LB1, has been assigned to a new species called Homo floresiensis. It was about one metre tall with long arms and a skull the size of a large grapefruit.

The researchers have since found remains belonging to six other individuals from the same species.

LB1 shared its island with a golden retriever-sized rat, giant tortoises and huge lizards - including Komodo dragons - and a pony-sized dwarf elephant called Stegodon which the "hobbits" probably hunted.

Chris Stringer, head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum said the long arms were an intriguing feature and might even suggest H. floresiensis spent much of its time in the trees.

"We don't know this. But if there were Komodo dragons about you might want to be up in the trees with your babies where it's safe. It's something for future research, but the fact they had long arms is at least suggestive," Professor Stringer told BBC News Online.

Studies of its hands and feet, which have not yet been described, may shed light on this question, he added.

H. floresiensis probably evolved from another species called Homo erectus, whose remains have been discovered on the Indonesian island of Java.

Homo erectus may have arrived on Flores about one million years ago, evolving its tiny physique in the isolation provided by the island.

What is surprising about this is that this species must have made it to Flores by boat. Yet building craft for travel on open water is traditionally thought to have been beyond the intellectual abilities of Homo erectus.

Legendary creatures

Even more intriguing is the fact that Flores' inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo.

The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to "murmuring" to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.

"There have always been myths about small people - Ireland has its Leprechauns and Australia has the Yowies. I suppose there's some feeling that this is an oral history going back to the survival of these small people into recent times," said co-discoverer Peter Brown, an associate professor of archaeology at New England.

The last evidence of this human at Liang Bua dates to just before 12,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption snuffed out much of Flores' unique wildlife.

Yet there are hints H. floresiensis could have lived on much later than this. The myths say Ebu Gogo were alive when Dutch explorers arrived a few hundred years ago and the very last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to 100 years ago.

But Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature magazine, goes further. He speculates that species like H.floresiensis might still exist, somewhere in the unexplored tropical forest of Indonesia.

Textbook rewrite

Professor Stringer said the find "rewrites our knowledge of human evolution." He added: "To have [this species] present 12,000 years ago is frankly astonishing."

Homo floresiensis might have evolved its small size in response to the scarcity of resources on the island.

"When creatures get marooned on islands they evolve in new and unpredictable courses. Some species grow very big and some species grow very small," Dr Gee explained.

The sophistication of stone tools found with the "hobbit" has surprised some scientists given the human's small brain size of 380cc (around the same size as a chimpanzee).

"The whole idea that you need a particular brain size to do anything intelligent is completely blown away by this find," Dr Gee commented.

Because the remains are relatively recent and not fossilised, scientists are even hopeful they might yield DNA, which could provide an entirely new perspective on the evolution of the human lineage.
 

sunsplash1

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#22
Hobbits? New, smaller genus homo?

Not sure where this should go(its more than news!). Mod types, Please move to more appropriate location if required...

'Hobbit' joins human family

Flores man ... a model of a skull from the newly found species of hobbit-sized humans that lived about 18,000 years ago in Indonesia. Reuters
Australian scientists have found a new species of hobbit-sized humans who lived about 18,000 years ago on an Indonesian island.

The discovery adds another piece to the complex puzzle of human evolution.

The partial skeleton of Homo floresiensis, found in a cave on the island of Flores, is of an adult female that was a metre tall, had a chimpanzee-sized brain and was substantially different from modern humans.

It shared the isolated island to the east of Java with miniature elephants and Komodo dragons.

The hominins walked upright and probably evolved into their dwarf size because of environmental conditions and coexisted with modern humans in the region for thousands of years.

Local legends tell of hobbit-like creatures existing on the islands long ago but until now there has been no evidence of them.

Peter Brown of the University of New England at Armidale in New South Wales and his colleagues discovered a skull and other bones, along with miniature tools in September 2003 while looking for records of modern human migration to Asia.

They have reported their findings in the science journal Nature.

Truly remarkable

"Finding these hominins on an isolated island in Asia, and with elements of modern human behaviour in tool-making and hunting, is truly remarkable and could not have been predicted by previous discoveries," Mr Brown said in a statement.

Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London told a news conference it was "an extraordinarily important find".

"It challenges the whole idea of what it is that makes us human," he said.

Mr Brown and his colleagues have found the remains of seven other dwarf individuals at the same site since the first find.

"The other individuals all show similar characteristics and over a time range that now extends from as long ago as 95,000 years to as recently as 13,000 years ago - a population of hobbits that seemed to disappear at about the same time as the pygmy elephants that they hunted," said Bert Roberts, one of the authors of the Nature study.

The hominin family tree, which includes humans and pre-humans, diverged from the chimpanzee line about 7 million years ago.

Early African hominins walked upright, were small and had tiny brains.

Dwarf form

The new species, dubbed "Flores man", is thought to be a descendent of Homo erectus, which had a large brain, was full-sized and spread out from Africa to Asia about 2 million years ago.

The new species became isolated on Flores and evolved into its dwarf form to conform with conditions, such as food shortages.

Flores, which was probably never connected to the mainland, was home to a variety of exotic creatures including a dwarf form of the primitive elephant Stegodon.

Modern humans had reached Australia about 45,000 years ago but they may not have passed through Flores.

The scientists suspect the Flores species became extinct after a massive volcanic eruption on the island about 12,000 years ago.

In a column in the same edition of Nature, science reporter Henry Gee argues that the remarkable find will raise the hopes of yeti hunters.

"The discovery that Homo floresiensis survived until so very recently, in geological terms, makes it more likely that stories of other mythical, human-like creatures such as yetis are founded on grains of truth," he writes.

"Now, cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold."

-- Reuters
Last Updated:Thursday, October 28, 2004. 10:34am (AEST)
http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200410/s1229377.htm

More detail at-
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4127713

This is just Soo Beautiful!
And they were still around (only) 10,000 years ago!
Great science!
:)

Edit: Old news! Please delete!
 

CuriousIdent

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#23
Saw this on the news last night.

What I was wondering is, is this really a new species? We've only been shown the one skull. Is it possible it could just be a normal human midget skull? The skull of a human being with stunted growth?
 

Stormkhan

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#24
At last we know where that little creep Bilbo "Oh, aren't I clever" Baggins hid out after the elves expelled him for fornication!
 

Inhabitant

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#26
There's a line in one of the Nature articles:

"Now, cryptozoology...can come in from the cold".

It's a tremendously exciting day. Hopefully this will add some renewed vigour to attempts at finding the Orang Pendek, and if it's there, making sure its habitat is protected.

Homo Erectus seem to have been a staggeringly diverse, sophisticated and successful species; compare Homo floresiensis with Homo Erectus Meganthropus:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_erectus_meganthropus

Obviously this find doesn't immediately ratify the existence of Sasquatch, Yeti, Yeren, Almas, Yowies etc etc but it does give the (to my mind) astonishingly megalomaniacal arrogance of the received assumption that Homo Sapiens has a unique place in the world a bloody good and long over-due kick up the arse.
 
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#27
Although one of nature's senior editors penned the cryptozoology article the discovers go into more detail on local legends:

Villagers speak of the small, hairy Ebu Gogo

(Filed: 28/10/2004)

Richard Roberts, discoverer of the Hobbit, says local tales suggest the species could still exist


When I was back in Flores earlier this month we heard the most amazing tales of little, hairy people, whom they called Ebu Gogo - Ebu meaning grandmother and Gogo meaning 'he who eats anything'. The tales contained the most fabulous details - so detailed that you'd imagine there had to be a grain of truth in them.

One of the village elders told us that the Ebu Gogo ate everything raw, including vegetables, fruits, meat and, if they got the chance, even human meat.

When food was served to them they also ate the plates, made of pumpkin - the original guests from hell (or heaven, if you don't like washing up and don't mind replacing your dinner set every week).

The villagers say that the Ebu Gogo raided their crops, which they tolerated, but decided to chase them away when the Ebu Gogo stole - and ate - one of their babies.

They ran away with the baby to their cave which was at the foot of the local volcano, some tens of metres up a cliff face. The villagers offered them bales of dry grass as fodder, which they gratefully accepted.

A few days later, the villagers went back with a burning bale of grass which they tossed into the cave. Out ran the Ebu Gogo, singed but not fried, and were last seen heading west, in the direction of Liang Bua, where we found the Hobbit, as it happens.

When my colleague Gert van den Bergh first heard these stories a decade ago, which several of the villages around the volcano recount with only very minor changes in detail, he thought them no better than leprechaun tales until we unearthed the Hobbit. (I much prefer Ebu as the name of our find but my colleague Mike Morwood was insistent on Hobbit.)

The anatomical details in the legends are equally fascinating. They are described as about a metre tall, with long hair, pot bellies, ears that slightly stick out, a slightly awkward gait, and longish arms and fingers - both confirmed by our further finds this year.

They [the Ebu Gogo] murmured at each other and could repeat words [spoken by villagers] verbatim. For example, to 'here's some food', they would reply 'here's some food'. They could climb slender-girthed trees but, here's the rub, were never seen holding stone tools or anything similar, whereas we have lots of sophisticated artefacts in the H. floresiensis levels at Liang Bua. That's the only inconsistency with the Liang Bua evidence.

The women Ebu Gogo had extremely pendulous breasts, so long that they would throw them over their shoulders, which must have been quite a sight in full flight.

We did ask the villagers if they ever interbred with the Ebu Gogo. They vigorously denied this, but said that the women of Labuan Baju (a village at the far western end of Flores, better known as LBJ) had rather long breasts, so they must have done.

Poor LBJ must be the butt of jokes in Flores, rather like the Irish and Tasmanians.

A local eruption at Liang Bua (in western Flores) may have wiped out local hobbits around 12,000 years ago, but they could well have persisted much later in other parts of the island. The villagers said that the last hobbit was seen just before the village moved location, farther from the volcano, not long before the Dutch colonists settled in that part of central Flores, in the 19th century.

Do the Ebu Gogo still exist? It would be a hoot to search the last pockets of rainforest on the island. Not many such pockets exist, but who knows. At the very least, searching again for that lava cave, or others like it, should be done, because remains of hair only a few hundred years old, would surely survive, snagged on the cave walls or incorporated in deposits, and would be ideal for ancient DNA analyses.

Interestingly, we did find lumps of dirt with black hair in them this year in the Hobbit levels, but don't know yet if they're human or something else. We're getting DNA testing done, which we hope will be instructive.

Richard "Bert" Roberts is a University of Wollongong professor and one of the team investigating the Hobbits.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/mai...28.xml&sSheet=/news/2004/10/28/ixnewstop.html
 
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#29
Its worth grabbing the Guardian today as they have a big piece by Hnery Gee (nature's editor) with diagrams, etc.):

Our not so distant relative

Scientists have discovered a new species of human in remotest Indonesia. Henry Gee reports on the Hobbit-like creature which questions our unique heritage.

Thursday October 28, 2004
The Guardian

W hen Indonesian and Australian archaeologists started to excavate a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, they weren't prepared for what they found, the skeleton of an entirely new species of human, Homo floresiensis, that lived as recently as 18,000 years ago.

"When we first unearthed the skeleton, I was simultaneously gobsmacked, puzzled and amused," says geochronologist Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong.

"We had been looking for the remains of the earliest modern humans in Indonesia, so when we found the skeleton of a completely new species of human, with so many primitive traits and that survived until so recently, it really opened up a whole can of prehistoric worms. The discovery of Homo floresiensis was sweet serendipity."

Peter Brown, an anthropologist from the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, says: "I would have been less surprised if someone had uncovered an alien." The discovery at Liang Bua cave, described in Nature this week, could alter our outlook on our own place in nature.

The discovery raises obvious questions about the diversity of the human family, such as whether undiscovered human-like species might survive today. Are we really the sole human custodians of our planet? Could the existence of Homo floresiensis rehabilitate persistent rumours of undiscovered human-like species elsewhere, notably the orang pendek of Malay folklore? Could cryptozoology come in from the cold?

Unlike parts of Indonesia closer to the Asian mainland, far-flung Flores has been an island for at least a million years. As is the case with islands elsewhere, the fauna of Flores evolved in its own way, producing creatures larger or smaller than their mainland relatives: a looking-glass lost world of tiny elephants, giant rats, Komodo dragons and even larger, extinct lizards.

This isolation had its effects on the human inhabitants. One of the most surprising things about the skeleton is its size: in life, no more than a metre tall, about the same size as one of the giant rats. Living in a hole in the ground and chased by lizards of mythical proportions, the creature has, perhaps inevitably, been nicknamed "hobbit" by some of the researchers - a reference to the tiny hole-dwelling heroes of The Lord of the Rings.

For Brown, it was the smallness of the skull that showed that Homo floresiensis was truly different. When he measured the skull volume and found it a chimp-sized 380cc, he says his jaw "dropped to my knees. Small stature is easy to accommodate, but small brain size is a bigger problem - it still is." And yet these tiny-brained creatures were skilled enough to make finely crafted stone tools.

The clue to the origin of Homo floresiensis comes from earlier work sug gestive of the presence on Flores of earlier, full-sized prehumans. Michael Morwood, of the University of New England, New South Wales, co-director of the excavation, working closely with his Indonesian counterpart, RP Soejono, of the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta, whose team discovered the skeleton.

In the mid-1990s, Morwood and his colleagues unearthed stone tools on the island dating back 800,000 years. The implication was that the toolmakers, presumably Homo erectus, were capable of navigating the open sea. It is possible that once marooned on Flores, a population of Homo erectus set its own evolutionary course, morphing into Homo floresiensis.

When a small population of animals is cut off from a parent population for an extended period, it follows its own evolutionary course. Size change is a typical response. Small size is an ad vantage on isolated islands, where resources are scarce, so this might have been what predisposed the inhabitants of Flores towards smallness.

It is hard to comprehend the significance of the survival of such a strange species of human until what is, in geological terms, a very recent date. To put this in context, by 18,000 years ago, modern Homo sapiens had been in Indonesia for at least 20,000 years.

Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum in London, says: "One of the first things I thought of, on learning about the Flores skeleton, was a possible parallel with the orang pendek [found in Sumatra]." Bert Roberts offers hints of new discoveries just below the research horizon: "When I was back in Flores just three weeks ago, Gert van den Bergh [from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research at Texel, and the team's expert on the fossil elephants] and I headed off to a village in central Flores where we heard the most amazing tales of little hairy people whom they called ebu gogo: ebu meaning "grandmother" and gogo "he who eats anything".

"The ebu gogo were short - about a metre tall - long-haired, pot-bellied, with ears that stuck out, walking with a slightly awkward gait, and had longish arms and fingers. They murmured at each other and could repeat words parrot-fashion. They could climb slender trees but were never seen holding stone tools, whereas we have lots of sophisticated artefacts associated with Homo floresiensis. That's the only inconsistency with the archaeological evidence. Gert had heard of these stories 10 years ago and he thought them no better than leprechaun stories - until we unearthed the hobbit."

Could the ebu gogo still be alive? Roberts thinks it is possible. "The villagers said that the last hobbit was seen just before Dutch colonists settled that part of Flores in the 19th century," he said, adding that searches of the remaining rainforest on Flores, and the caves specifically associated with the ebu gogo stories, could turn up samples of hair or other material, if not living, breathing specimens.

The possibility of finding ebu gogo alive should not be dismissed as fantasy, because mammals unknown to science do still turn up - and South-East Asia is a particular hotspot for such finds. An antelope, Pseudoryx nghetinhensis, from the Lao-Vietnamese border, was described as recently as 1993. An ox-like creature, the kouprey, was discovered in Cambodia in the 1940s.

Morwood and Roberts have targets already in their sights. Many Indonesian islands contain peculiar faunas and have deep, barely explored limestone caves. "Sumba and Sulawesi are high on our hitlist," says Roberts. Morwood starts work on Sulawesi next year.

A larger theme raised by the discovery concerns the uniqueness of our human heritage, something which, in hindsight, has been in question for decades. Back in the 1960s, the great anthropologist Louis Leakey speculated that the human lineage had been distinct from that of the apes for 20m years or so. In the 1970s, extinct ape-like primates such as Ramapithecus, living around 10-20m years ago, were presumed to lie on the human lineage. But this consensus swept into reverse with the discovery that Ramapithecus was more akin to orang-utans - and molecular evidence showing that the DNA of humans and chimpanzees were so similar that a separation of more than 3-5m years was ruled out.

But opinions have, slowly, been changing back. The force has come from the discoveries of extinct members of the human lineage of ever greater antiquity. Ardipithecus ramidus, discovered in Ethiopia in the mid-1990s by Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues, put back the human-chimp divergence to at least 4.4m years ago. If this put the molecular evidence under strain, it was snapped by the discovery in Chad by Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers, France, and colleagues of "Toumaï" - Sahelanthropus tchadensis, a member of the human lineage that could be as old as 7m years. Louis Leakey has been partially vindicated, with the effect that our own complacency at our distinctiveness with respect to the animal world has been reinforced.

By the same token, evidence for the diversity of human species through time has been downplayed, first by the cultural inertia of stories of an upwards progression towards the human state; second, by the curious chance that Homo sapiens happens to be the only species of human around today - a situation probably unprecedented in 7m years. The evidence for the coexistence of humans and Neanderthals in Europe for at least 10,000 years until Neanderthals disappeared around 30,000 years ago, and the fact that anthropologists have known for years of the multiple lineages of prehumans living in Africa between 4-2m years -has done little to dent the robust idea that humans are so distinct from the rest of the animal world that they rule the earth by virtue of inherent perfection, or divine fiat.

The Flores finds could change all that with a single stroke.

For one thing, they underscore the fact of human diversity until very recent times. "Maybe little folk from Flores will hammer the point home more effectively because they are so different in anatomy but so close in time," says Tim White. "How will the creationists cope?"

For another, the evidence challenges the human-centric idea that humans characteristically modify their surroundings to suit themselves, rather than allowing natural selection to adapt them to their environment. If the Flores skeleton is evidence of the kind of evolutionary size change more associated with animals such as rats and elephants, this, says Brown "is a clear indicator" of human-like creatures "behaving like all other mammals in terms of their interactions with the environment".

"Darwin and Wallace would be pleased," adds Tim White. "What better demonstration that humans play by the same evolutionary rules as other mammals?"

Of perhaps more current concern to anthropologists is the degree to which Homo floresiensis, with its small stature and - especially - tiny brain, will force a redefinition of humanity, at least in terms of anatomy. "I think the discovery challenges the very notion of what it is to be human," says Stringer.

"Here is a creature with a brain the size of a chimpanzee's, but apparently a tool-maker and hunter, and perhaps descended from the world's first mariners. Its very existence shows how little we know about human evolution. I could never have imagined a creature like this, living as recently as this."

Russell Ciochon, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Iowa, says: "I suspect that creationists will act very negatively toward this discovery.

"It shows that humans were not alone. There may be other dwarfed species lurking in the caves of other isolated islands. Each new discovery will subtract some essence from the uniqueness of humans. I wonder if this discovery might even be discussed in our current political campaign? It is no secret that Bush is anti-evolution. If he is smart, he will not touch this one."

----------------
Further reading:

Fission-track ages of stone tools and fossils on the east Indonesian island of Flores by MJ Morwood, PB O'Sullivan and A Raza, Nature vol 392, pp173-176 (1998) Earlier evidence that Homo erectus crossed open sea to reach the remote island of Flores

New ages for human occupation and climatic change at Lake Mungo, Australia by James M Bowler and colleagues, Nature vol. 421, pp837-840 (2003)

A new hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad, Central Africa by Michel Brunet and colleagues, Nature vol 418, 145-151 (2002)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/feature/story/0,13026,1337198,00.html
 
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