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New Hominid Species Unearthed in Indonesia 588

Posted by michael
from the nasty-hobbitses dept.
Radical Rad writes "ABC News is reporting that anthropologists have found the skeletal remains of seven hobbit sized hominids. The population may have been wiped out by a volcanic activity 12000 years ago or according to local legend may have lived up until the 1500's living on in caves and eating food the villagers would leave out for them. Also found were bones of giant lizards and miniature elephants. CBS also has the story." National Geographic and the BBC have good stories.
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New Hominid Species Unearthed in Indonesia

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  • by fembots (753724) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @03:22PM (#10645561) Homepage
    The current explanation for these "hobbits" is they somehow got to this 31-square-mile island, and because of the habitat/food source limition, they grew smaller so that they cooled off more easily, and used less energy.

    However, if they were smart enough to find a way to this island, couldn't they just do another island-hoping to a bigger island like Sumantra, or even Australia?

    The article also mentioned "many anthropologists have argued that in recent years, scientists have been adding too many new species to the human evolutionary tree. They say scientists have become too quick to call what may simply be an unusual individual a member of a whole new species."

    Maybe these tiny people have some kind of sickness (or just look tiny), and were therefore exiled from the main(is)land?
  • Hmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by retro128 (318602) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @03:32PM (#10645723)
    Obviously the Hobbits didn't finish off Mt. Doom as well as they thought they did.
  • small brains (Score:3, Interesting)

    by avandesande (143899) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @03:35PM (#10645756) Journal
    I have seen functioning humans with heads the size of a grapefruit.
  • Myths and Legends (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @03:46PM (#10645908)
    I've heard that it is theorized that many myths and legends are based somewhat on fact. Could this be the discovery of the wee folk that are in legends through out the world?
  • Super Volcano? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gogela (750552) <`jason' `at' `gogela.com'> on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @03:49PM (#10645941) Homepage Journal
    I recently watched a discovery channel program about super volcanos ( Super Volcano info here [freerepublic.com])that might explain the demise of the Hobbits. Apparently, there was a bottleneck sometime in human history that limited our genetic diversity. According to Discovery, that bottleneck might have been caused by a volcano many thousands of times the power of any volcano we have seen to date. The biggest one they know about is in Yellowstone National Park, and is set to go off again anytime within the next 200,000 years. The theory goes that one of these volcanos erupted and wiped out all but 15-20,000 humans, almost wiping us off the face of the earth. Maybe it killed the Hobbits... and the Orcs... and the Gobblins...

  • Menehune (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ziegast (168305) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @03:57PM (#10646043) Homepage
    I'm surprised that the article didn't mention Menehune [wikipedia.org] which are "little gods" that frequent Hawaiian and Polynesian folklore and mythology. When the settlers of the Pacific Islands were traveling around settling different islands thousands of years ago, they learned from little natives that seems gifted in surviving on the islands.

  • by dustinbarbour (721795) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @03:59PM (#10646083) Homepage

    You are correct. It does seem that anything not exactly like any current known species is called a new species. I would like to see anthropologists be a bit more careful with this classification system we've got, but in the end, does it really matter? I mean, whoopety-do.. Some type of hominid that probably didn't lead directly to modern humans is misclassified. Eh.. For some reason I'm a little apathetic to the whole thing.

    Anyway.. Perhaps they didn't so much get onto the island as the land broke away from the main island isolating them. Then its plausible they weren't intelligent enough to make it back to the main island. Perhaps that is what will happen to all those folks over in California.

  • by jeavis (198354) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:01PM (#10646113)
    There is only one species of domesticated dog, Canis lupus familiaris, of which the Mastif and Chihuahua are distinct breeds. The difference between a species and a breed is that species differentiation occurs due to genetic mutation, while breed differentiation occurs due to selective reproduction of animals with desirable traits, in the hope that those traits come out in the offspring.
  • by Reziac (43301) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:03PM (#10646127) Homepage Journal
    I was recently reading about African Pygmies, and how Pygmy tribes interact with other tribes -- these naturally pint-sized people (which despite their small stature are still ordinary Homo sapiens, genetically) live in the deep forest, maintain a very primitive lifestyle by choice, and only come to town to trade (or sometimes to beg or work). Some "town tribes" regard them more or less as "forest elves". Their numbers, never great, have declined radically in some areas, and doubtless some Pygmy tribes now exist only as mouldering or even fossilized bones.

    These newly-discovered "hobbitt-sized people" may well be no more than a sort of local pygmy tribe, now extinct.

    OTOH, it's perfectly possible that remnants of genetic side-branches of Homo Whatever persisted into historical times, if sufficiently isolated and protected by their local environment.

    Size is no indication of being a different species; hell, look at dogs, which even among wild species range from 25 to 100 lbs. A closed environment can select for even larger extremes; also, note the radically different brain size among different breeds of domestic dogs, even tho they are all the same species.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:05PM (#10646156) Homepage Journal
    Hawai'i is full of stories about the "Menehune", the "little people" who lived in the islands before Polynesians arrived and took over. I have seen some of the walls they say were built by the Menehune, and they are different from the walls built by Polynesians and Europeans (and other "globals" following European arrival). The walls are fitted together more closely, with a technique that more resembles the Egyptian and Mayan walls that I've seen, though much smaller in scale. Perhaps we don't have the first global culture?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:10PM (#10646198)
    Middle Earth _was_ another name for Europe back in the Middle Ages.

    It's older than that... this is what "Mediterranean" means, after all.

    But this is pretty typical of cultures all over. The Chinese word for China means "Middle Kingdom", i.e. the central country.
  • Hobbits in Indonesia (Score:4, Interesting)

    by IPFreely (47576) <mark@mwiley.org> on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:15PM (#10646286) Homepage Journal
    Hmmm. Hobbits in Indonesia.

    So if we follow the map [uni-bremen.de] (assuming sea level has risen since Middle Earth days), mountain chain, south to Rohan, East, that would put Mordor right ... about ... Here [backpack-newzealand.com].

    I thought Rohan/Gondor west of Ithilien river looked a lot like Australia. Now we know.

  • by mikael (484) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:17PM (#10646306)
    The current explanation for these "hobbits" is they somehow got to this 31-square-mile island, and because of the habitat/food source limition, they grew smaller so that they cooled off more easily, and used less energy.

    That's the argument used for living in extreme cold. We were told that ethnic cultures such as the Zulu's were tall because that was the best way to radiate heat (taller == more elongated == more surface area/volume), and that the Innuit were short and round due to the extreme cold (shorter == more spherical == less surface area/volume).

    For reptiles, warmer temperatures usually leads to larger body sizes, while colder temperatures leads to smaller sizes.

    So, maybe the climate went the other way, and everything became colder?
  • one specimen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by option8 (16509) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:21PM (#10646358) Homepage
    it always concerns me that paleontologists and anthropologists are always so excited over finding *one* specimen. and usually just a partial one at that.

    i'm no paleontologist (and i don't play one on tv, either) so i don't know exactly how well you can really extrapolate a whole species' traits from one specimen. do you know, for instance, that it's genetically "normal" for its species? was it typical of the nutritional, physical, and in the case of hominids, social environment?

    for instance, what would be the inference if a future archaeologist found the skeletal remains of the following: someone born with Down Syndrome, someone with Marfan Syndrome, and someone with one of the 522 different types of dwarfism [dwarfism.org] - skeletons or models of which can typically be found in better natural history and science museums around the world.

    where, for instance, are Lucy's kin? and she's the basis for whole shelves of books on human evolution.
  • by orasio (188021) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:23PM (#10646385) Homepage
    The grandparent's idea is not that great, but you fail to point out any incoherence.

    There have been cases when a special kind of individuals have been exiled, or killed, even because of their sex. You talk about the improbability for a malformation of the same kind in many individuals. Down's syndrome, for example, is a malformation that looks similar in every individual that has it, and it has morphological particularities, too.
  • by UnkyHerb (12862) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:35PM (#10646531)
    This immediatly reminded me of the Dropa and the Han [20kweb.com]from the Bayan Kara-Ula regin near Tibet. Heres a Picture [20kweb.com] of them. Look around on the web and you can find more information. They were small people. "The Bayan Kara Ula, or Bayan Har Shan, area of China is where the source of Yangtze River is located and where the Mekong River turns south toward Vietnam. It's said to be very isolated and the people there still live in rather primitive conditions, although this is changing very quickly. In January of 1938, a Chinese archaeologist named Professor Chu Pu Tei led a rather routine expedition into these mountains. However, what they discovered in a group of caves shunned by the superstitious local natives was far from routine. In the caves, the expedition discovered a series of graves lined up in rows. On the walls of the caves there were stick-figure drawings of men with elongated heads and representations of the sun, moon, and stars. When they excavated the graves, the archaeologists found skeletons of less than four feet in length with abnormally large skulls." link [msn.com]
  • by Reziac (43301) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:43PM (#10646608) Homepage Journal
    It doesn't take much to get different limb lengths and proportions to breed true, even to the point of looking "wrong" to someone from another tribe (thus from another gene pool). There are plenty of examples among modern ordinary humans, even without delving into genetic anomalies like dwarfism.## Some races are long-bodied and short-limbed, others are long-limbed and short-bodied; some have large round skulls, others have small narrow skulls; etc, etc. If you put extreme (yet still normal-range) examples side by side, they'll barely LOOK like the same genus, let alone the same species.

    Point being, you can't judge by appearance at that level. Now, if they had DNA evidence to back up their speculation about these people being a different species... that would mean something.

    ## Selection for proportions can be done in just a couple generations in dogs**. Humans aren't that much more complex, and human mating behaviour tends toward selecting the familiar (ie. someone who looks at least sortof like your own tribe). Types do develop and breed true in humans, if sufficiently isolated by geography and/or tribal behaviour. -- I've heard how some Orientals can peg another Oriental by physical type right down to their native village and even family, because the local types are so consistent. [I can do the same with some bloodlines in dogs.]

    (**Something I'm intimately aware of, as a professional dog breeder/trainer with 11 generations of my own bloodline, and 35 years experience.)

    Great, now you've made me do nested footnotes :)

  • by Jameth (664111) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:43PM (#10646616)
    The most interesting thing about these are that the natives of the island have many legends about people exactly fitting this description (three feet tall and humanoid) that are extremely detailed. The legends even include that these 'hobbits' had languages of their own.

    First, this would be the first case of modern humans having even psuedo-recorded contact with another intelligent species.

    Second, this rips back open the possibility of our faerie tales being more true than most of us would have expected.
  • by werfele (611119) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:45PM (#10646641)
    It's also possible they had a way on to the island, but not off, once the resources contraints began. Look at the case of Easter Island [calacademy.org], whose inhabitants had the technology to travel hundreds of miles from Polynesia, but so thoroughly depleted their resources that they could no longer build boats to leave once the problems began.
  • by AdolChristin (694990) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @04:54PM (#10646730) Journal
    Seriously, am I the only one who thinks that this is like Piltdown Man all over again. Some foppish rogue fossil hunter is going to go "Haha! Fooled you chaps!" any moment now.
  • by greg_barton (5551) * <(greg_barton) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @05:01PM (#10646802) Homepage Journal
    Guess you missed that chapter in sociology.

    From that chapter:
    "This article includes observations informed by personal experiences of both practicing sociology in exile and studying an exilic community. Since 1991, I have been involved in fieldwork research in North America and Europe among Iranian exiles. "

    You're trying to apply contemporary human sociology to a society that is at least 18000 years old... and possibly not human?

    Riiight...
  • Re:non-human? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by phek (791955) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @05:28PM (#10647073)
    "So what if this is a small specimen. I can think of many human beings that are small, they are called children." You must have missed the part in the article where they said it was an 30 year old adult. So if a this is a child, that means his bones don't grow in the same pattern a a homo sapien's or homo erectus' grow, which should be more than enough to classify it as a new branch of humanoid.
  • by hedgehogbrains (628646) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @05:49PM (#10647314)
    There was a fairly well received theory that Neanderthals were ordinary humans suffering from iodine defficiency. [marshill.org] Okay, so it likely isn't true, but the theory was quite well worked out and shows how something as simple as a nutritional defficiency can radically affect an entire group of people the same way. Perhaps a gentic defect could produce the same effect in an entire population bred from a single individual? I think you're being unnecessarily dismissive of the the parent post's suggestion. It's early days yet, and the idea of a brand new human species is quite radical itself.
  • Probably not (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bergwitz (702715) <(bergwitz) (at) (stud.ntnu.no)> on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @06:04PM (#10647475)
    Probably not.
    Most folklorists believe that myths about wee folk are remnants of animist beliefs. When a new religion came people merged it with it's earlier religion, and the animist spirits became the wee folk. A good example is how Pan has many features in common with the Christian devil.
    As the wee folk of different cultures usually has much more in common with how spirits are viewed in animist cultures than with any small humans I believe we can disregard the homo foresiensis as any explanation of the wee folk.

    But this on the other is probably a myth based on fact (from the BBC article):
    "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. ...
    ... 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. "

    Really something for the cryptzoologists!
  • It reminds me.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 12357bd (686909) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @08:02PM (#10648607)

    The fascinating history of H.P. Blavatsky 'The People of Blue Mountains [katinkahesselink.net]'.

    Probably those small people of Indonesia had also his own myths about why and how the were there.

  • Cryptozoology (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pajamacore (613970) on Wednesday October 27, 2004 @09:48PM (#10649325)
    Orang-pendek [occultopedia.com] anyone? As recently as 1847, gorillas were dismissed as silly native legends. It was then that white men finally laid eyes on them. The mountan gorilla was also thought to be central Africa's Yeti until 1901. Then there's the whole tree-beater/lion-killer ape controversy in Africa right now. The moral is: don't dismiss native stories so easily.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 28, 2004 @12:24AM (#10650264)
    Hawai'i is full of stories about the "Menehune", the "little people" who lived in the islands before Polynesians arrived and took over. I have seen some of the walls they say were built by the Menehune, and they are different from the walls built by Polynesians and Europeans (and other "globals" following European arrival). The walls are fitted together more closely, with a technique that more resembles the Egyptian and Mayan walls that I've seen, though much smaller in scale. Perhaps we don't have the first global culture?

    30 000 years ago during the last ice age when ice sheets covered north america and most of europe and CONNECTED the continets so a boat could follow the coast and circle the world, there were neanderthals and these elve types (and the bible "giants" mentioned in genesis for all we know) and giant animals like sabbertooth cats and whooly mamoths and giant salt water crocadiles (the inspiration for dragons?) (whose methane laden breath could catch fire???) all buried on the world's continental sea shelves in a few hundred feet of water.

    Truely, what riches await future underwater archiologists !!! Especially one's that can spell !!
  • by Colonel Cholling (715787) on Thursday October 28, 2004 @07:35AM (#10651921)
    What I believe he means is that dogs are not the product of natural selection, but rather a product of artificial selection.

    I know what he meant. And I'm saying that the distinction between natural and artificial selection is specious.

    This situation is fundimentally different from the evolution of dogs because there was no 3rd party species to artificially select for traits in humans.

    Humans didn't evolve in a vacuum. We are what we are today because of the ways in which our ancestors were affected by their environment, which includes all the other species with which they had to live.

    I suppose the distinction you're trying to make is that humans intentionally bred animals for certain traits, whereas, unless Lamarck was right about the giraffes, there's no intentional change in so-called natural evolution. I'm not sure you can really draw this line. For example, humans aren't the only animals who cultivate other organisms; there are ants who raise aphids and farm fungus for food, and I'm sure both the aphids and the fungus have been changed somewhat by that process in ways that were mutually benificial. Was this intentional or not, natural or artificial?

    Now consider the way the wheat plant has changed due to humans. It used to be the case that most grains of wheat were loose and would fall off at the slightest breeze-- this is how the plant would reproduce. When humans developed agriculture, they would cut stalks of wheat in the fields and carry them back to their granaries. Those wheat grains which were not firmly attached fell off, leaving only the more secure grains in the hands of humans. It didn't take long before most of the wheat grown by humans had grains which were hard to detach, requiring people to do a lot more work to separate them. This was selection due to human activity (hence "artificial"), yet was almost certainly unintended.

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