Dwarfism? Homo Floresiensis: Little People of Flores - A New Kind of Human

Hobbit is the first glance of a new human species: Homo floresiensis. Her form most probably evolved from earlier Homo erectus inhabitants which may have stood several feet taller at the beginning. But over hundreds of millennium of isolation on Flores, t

DWARFISM? HOMO FLORESIENSIS: LITTLE PEOPLE OF FLORES – A NEW KIND OF HUMAN

What are “little people” or small people? This condition of small length structure in a person is known as dwarfism. Dwarfism or short stature or restricted growth is a medical disorder which causes a person to remain abnormally short, but this is a total different story about “Hobbit” – a tiny human relative discovered at Liang Bua, which means ‘cool cave’ in the local Mangarai language, Flores, Indonesia.

Homo erectus, meaning “set-up straight” is an extinct species of hominid which dated back from 1.5 to 1.8 million years ago, approximately. This originated in Africa and later on as far as Java (Java man), China (the Peking man) and India (Narmada hominid). Still on debate and disagreement on the subject, progeny and ancestry of Homo erectus maybe another name for Homo ergaster and therefore the direct ancestor of recent hominids such as the homo heidelbergensis (Heidelberg man), homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man) and homo sapiens.

In the 1950s and 60s a priest and archeologist, Theodore Verhoeven had discovered existence of early human presence in the Soa Basin of Flores, Indonesia. He found stone artifacts near fossils of stegodont, believe to be more than 800,000 years old. An archaic hominid was known to existed in Java more than a million years ago so the priest concluded that the Homo erectus may have cross the sea going to Flores

In the early 1990s, archeologists and researchers with modern techniques have dated ancient tools from the Soa Basin less than 900,000 years old and Verhoeven conclusion was right: Homo erectus had landed Flores long before modern humans do.

By September 2003, a team of Indonesians and Australian researchers with Manggarai workers concentrated on Liong Bua and dug the cave floor. After long three-months of excavations, the fruits of their labor changed. The first sign was a slice of a bone, the top of a skull appeared, next the jaws, followed by the pelvis and the set of leg bones joined together – almost an entire skeleton of Hobbit.

 

Thomas Sutikna of the Indonesian Centre for Archeology holds the skull of Hobbit which he and fellow scientist believe represents an new human species.

The skeleton was brought to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital where Peter Brown, a paleoanthropologist from the University of New England in Australia supervised the over-all conserving, cleaning and study of the skeleton. The pelvic structure reveals it was female with her teeth confirmed that she was adult. The brow ridges and jaw with her sloping forehead resembled those of the Homo erectus but her size was very distinct.

It wasn’t just her size and weight estimated about 50 to 55 pounds but a small brain as well, small even for a chimpanzee. Peter Brown calculation was the brain’s volume of Hobbit was at less than a third of a modern human brain. She had by far the smallest brain of any member of the genus Homo. But in spite of their small brains, the little people obviously had sophisticated application. They have numerous blackened bones, fireplaces, with numerous stone tools of their handiworks found among their remains. The little people were hunters of biggest animals around their time with stone points, most probably hefted onto spears, aimed against stegodont, some of which bore cut marks. No signs of modern humans found from the excavation.

But the strangest thing above all – she lived practically the other day. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal parts was found beside her skeleton together with glow dating indication when the surrounding deposits were last exposed to the sun, disclosed her 18,000-year age or more.

In the third-quarter of 2004, Liang Bua had generated teeth and bones from at least six more individuals from about 90,000 until as recently as 13,000-years ago. These discoveries include part of another adult skull – a lower jaw that is small as the former. It simply distorts credibility to invoke a rare disease by few skeptics. They argue that the whole skeleton must have come from a modern man who was inflicted by a rare condition called microcephaly, in which the brain shrink and the body dwarfed while the other small bones, they say are remains of children.

Closure: Hobbit is the first glance of a new human species: Homo floresiensis. Her form most probably evolved from earlier Homo erectus inhabitants which may have stood several feet taller at the beginning. But over hundreds of millennium of isolation on Flores, they become smaller and lose substances.

This dwarfing is commonly the fate of huge mammals isolated on islands. Predators like the komodo dragons are the only menace and the scarce food resources on a little island turn a great, calorie hungry body into an obligation. Stegodonts grew bigger in mainland Asia, bigger than African elephants; at Flores, they only grew as the size of the present-day buffalo.

In past times, some anthropologists argued that prehistory humans could adapt to every new environment by devising new tools or behaviors contrary to evolving physically. This dwarfing in Liong Bua is mighty evidence the humans are not exempted from natural selection and its discovery is also a clear clue that varieties of humans once have populated distant corners of the world.

Reference:

National Geographic – April 2005 Lost World of the little People pp. 2-27

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