In what is
being hailed as one of the most spectacular paleoanthropological finds of the past century, researchers have unearthed the
remains of a dwarf human species that survived on the Indonesian island of Flores until just 13,000 years ago. The discovery
significantly extends the known range of physical variation in our genus, Homo, and reveals that H. sapiens
shared the planet with other humans much more recently than previously believed.
Scientists writing today in Nature describe a partial
skeleton from a limestone cave on the island known as Liang Bua. Dubbed LB1, the specimen appears to have belonged to an adult
female who stood barely a meter tall and had a skull the size of a grapefruit--the smallest member of the human family yet.
Although closer in overall size to the much older australopithecines, such as Lucy, the new hominid apparently resembles members
of the genus Homo in features related to chewing and upright-walking. Discoverers Peter Brown of the University of
New England in Armidale, Australia, and his colleagues assign LB1 to a new species of Homo, H. floresiensis. They further
propose that it was a dwarfed descendant of H. erectus, which is thought to have arrived in Southeast Asia by around
1.7 million years ago.
well known to occur in island-dwelling mammals larger than rabbits, presumably because islands tend to have limited food supplies.
Indeed, H. floresiensis wasn't the only miniature on Flores: pint-size bones of an elephant relative known as Stegodon
have turned up at Liang Bua as well. Islands can also breed giants, however, and Liang Bua has yielded evidence of these as
well, including Komodo dragons and very large rodents.
Just as astonishing as H. floresiensis's small
size are the tools it is said to have used. In a second report in Nature, Michael Moorwood, also at the University
of New England, and his collaborators describe stone artifacts found in association with the hominid remains. Most are simple
flake tools, but the researchers also found points, perforators, blades and microblades that they say were most likely hafted
as barbs. These more advanced tools--comparable in their complexity to those known to have been crafted by H. sapiens--turned
up amidst baby Stegodon bones, suggesting to the team that this tiny human was hunting tiny elephants.
arm bone found deeper in the Liang Bua deposit, as well as the remains of several other individuals recovered more recently,
indicate that H. floresiensis had a long history on the island, and was present there 95,000 years ago. This bantam
human therefore significantly overlapped in time with Homo sapiens, who arrived in the region sometime between 55,000
and 35,000 years ago. How they interacted, however--if they ever even met face to face--remains a mystery.
Future work, team members say, will focus on trying to
find large-bodied ancestors of H. floresiensis on Flores. They also plan to investigate other Indonesian islands, such
as Java and Sulawesi. "Perhaps the far-flung Indonesian islands have acted as a series of independent 'Noah's Arks,' each
with their own trademark endemic dwarfs and giants," comments team member Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong in
New South Wales. "In this regard, no amount of navel-gazing and hypothesizing can substitute for dogged field work, because
only by excavating deposits will surprises such as Flores man be brought to light." --Kate Wong
Scientists uncover possible new species of human
Dwarf skeleton is 18,000 years old Wednesday, October
27, 2004 Posted: 7:09 PM EDT (2309 GMT
Chris Stringer shows a cast of a skull of Homo floresiensis, a newly-discovered species.
(AP) -- 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. "So the 18,000-year-old
skeleton cannot be some kind of 'freak' that we just happened to stumble across," said one of
the discoverers, radiocarbon dating expert Richard G. Roberts of the University of Wollongong in Australia.
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 with 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 and whether it crossed paths with modern humans
is uncertain. 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.
"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.
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 were 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
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 it's
jumbled features. Many say that 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
tibia 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."
Tiny hominid is big news in tale of human evolution Wed Oct 27, 1:11 PM ET
FROM AFP, on the Internet
PARIS (AFP) - In one of the most spectacular fossil finds in decades, anthropologists announced 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 (3.25 feet) high and
had a brain size of 380 cc (13 fluid ounces), just a quarter of modern Man's. They
have dubbed the hominid Homo floresiensis, "Man of Flores."
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." 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.
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 in a commentary, also carried in Nature. "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."
The Flores discovery
includes the skull, femur and tibia, hand fragments and bits of vertebrae from one individual, apparently a female, and a
premolar from another. They were unearthed from the floor of a cave at Liang
Bua, in the middle of western Flores, where amateur anthropologists first started excavating in 1965. The authors are certain that the skeleton, called LB1, is that of a full-grown adult human, not a
dwarf H. sapiens or an ape. Islands are famous for Darwinian selection, for shaping
the genetic path of species through climate, terrain and food availability and lack of breeding with other species. Flores was once the home of a dwarf elephant called a Stegodon, the remains of which were found alongside
the H. floriensis fossils. Also found there were sharp and pointed bones
that may have been tools, but it is debatable as to whether these were made by H. floresiensis or by H. sapiens.
that a gene responsible for a rare variety of dwarfism might also explain the stature of the three-foot-tall human fossil
unearthed in Indonesia in 2004, referred to as LB1 or the "Hobbit." People with microcephalic osteodysplastic primordial dwarfism type II (MOPD II) grow only about three
feet (one meter) tall and have small heads (average circumference of 16 inches, or 40 centimeters) but almost normal brain
structure and intelligence. A group reports in Science that each of 25 MOPD
II individuals in its sample bore two inactive copies of PCNT, which is involved
in separating the chromosomes during cell division. The researchers say the finding might inform the debate over whether the
Hobbit represents a distinct species or a vertically challenged modern human. (Science)
Scientific American February 6, 2007 at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=hobbit-skeptics-split-on
Hobbit Skeptics Split on What
a Second Skull Would Mean
of a human Hobbit reveal what--if anything--would make them soften their stance
For three years researchers have feuded over the rightful classification of the Hobbit, a diminutive, 18,000-year-old
specimen unearthed from the Indonesian island of Flores. Is it an entirely new species, as its discoverers have maintained, or merely a small-brained
human? Last week, officials reopened the site where the Hobbit was found as well as a newly discovered cavern underneath it,
raising hope that diggers might soon bring convincing new evidence to bear.
A second skull would be especially helpful. Critics of the new species theory have latched onto the Hobbit's measly
400-cubic-centimeter brain as a sure sign of an abnormality called microcephaly in which the brain does not reach normal size.
Some prominent advocates of a human Hobbit say that a second skull could settle the debate. "It's the acid test," says primatologist
Robert Martin of the Field Museum in Chicago, who contends that the existing Hobbit skull is a malformed human skull. If he is correct, a second skull would be
closer to 1,000 cubic centimeters, he says.
A newfound skull just as small, however, would weaken the microcephaly view, agrees John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist
at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. "I completely accept that the skeleton is pathological," he says. Nevertheless,
"if a second skull were found with the same brain size as the first, the game is over. We find humans with extremely small
brain size once in a while, but finding two in an archaeological sample is just implausible, unless they sample a population
where extremely small brains are the norm."
Some other holdouts against the separate species view say the question is less straightforward. "Reopening the cave
is great and I am confident that the investigators will find more material similar to that already recovered," says evolutionary
biologist Gary Richards of the University of California, Berkeley, who has argued that the Hobbit represents a dwarfed—but healthy—human. "Unlike others,
I am of the opinion that this will not confirm that the remains are a [new] species."
According to Richards, if the Hobbit specimen is truly a dwarf, it would not have been the only one. Thanks
to inbreeding, "significant numbers of individuals would have been present in the population that shared the same condition,
so multiple individuals are to be expected," he says. Evolutionary biologist Robert Eckhardt of Pennsylvania State University,
a proponent of the pathological view, says he would take another pea-brained Hobbit as sign of a hereditary deformity, given
the existence of human families in which microcephaly was passed down through several generations.
So what would it take to convince hardcore skeptics that the Hobbit is its own species? Eckhardt says the question
"approaches this problem from the wrong way around," because in his view the specimen's pathology is well established.
Richards says the question of the Hobbit's species status is currently unanswerable. The intriguing part, he
notes, is what the Hobbit can teach us about evolution. As he sees it, the genetic pathways that lead to dwarfism in modern
humans are well understood, and a detailed study of multiple Hobbit specimens could help tease apart which pathways gave rise
to and maintained this lilliputian population.
"The import of this to understanding the history of evolutionary change in the human lineage is huge," he says.
"But most of my colleagues would rather argue about whether or not this represents a new species." That debate could ultimately
be resolved but "only by keeping an open mind about these remains are we going to be in a position to determine whether they
represent a new species," he says.
Enter supporting content here
Over 30 assorted cartoons
6 Bush cartoons
Links to best on web of bush cartoons, jokes and animation
Danish cartoons that offend Moslems
More Danish Moslems
Moslems cartoons on Jews
More Moslems cartoons plus photos
Page of links including political cartoons
Cartoon gallery, latest ones
Another California Skeptic’s collection—huge, biting, for adults
Her collection of Bush Cartoons
One act play on Bush’s tax cut—Al Franken
Brotherhood of religions—the Nation
Letters from Earth, Mark Twain at his best
5 humorous blasts at religion—Mark Twain
Eros & Zeus—Lucian
Zeus & the modern thinking Greeks—Lucian
The damned human race—Mark Twain
Zeus the pedophile—Lucian
Doc Laura, Old Testament morality
OFF SITE CARTOONS
PILLSBURY DOUGH BOY
A FUN COLLECTION
DAN COLLINS OF HUSTLER MAGAZINE
EXCELLENT COLLECTION OF UNDERGROUND COMICS
A FUN COLLECTION
POLITICAL & SOCIAL GEMS—Mark Froce
SEXUALLY ORIENTED COLLECTION
A FUN COLLECTION
EXCELLENT MUSICAL CARTOONS—JibJab
A FUN COLLECTION
LUNACY TOONS—outrageous, quality sounds