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Ancient Bones of Small Humans Discovered In Palau 129

Posted by kdawson
from the making-a-hobbit-of-it dept.
seattle-pk writes to let us know about the discovery in the Pacific island nation of Palau of thousands of human bones, some quite diminutive. The find is likely to rekindle the debate about how to classify the remains found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. "Some of the bones are ancient and indicate inhabitants of particularly small size, scientists announced today. The remains are between 900 and 2,900 years old and align with Homo sapiens, according to a paper on the discovery. However, the older bones are tiny and exhibit several traits considered primitive, or archaic, for the human lineage."
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Ancient Bones of Small Humans Discovered In Palau

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  • Remnants (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) * on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:34PM (#22720202) Homepage Journal
    From the third age...
    • by msheekhah (903443)
      It's just Zakarumites. They have all of the enthusiasm of a Zombie... but without the charisma.
    • Perhaps... (Score:4, Funny)

      by Roger W Moore (538166) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @03:20PM (#22720868) Journal
      ...although I also hear that they found an ancient road apparently made from unusual yellow bricks as well as a strangely built ruins of a wooden tomb which only seems to contain the upper half of a female skeleton.
      • Re:Perhaps... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by paganizer (566360) <thegrove1@NoSpAm.hotmail.com> on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @04:35PM (#22721742) Homepage Journal
        Thats just barely more weird than what they have found in the area. I mean seriously, that is a totally freaky-deaky area.
        One of the lesser things is Palau money beads; they have found these beads, which were used as currency by the islanders, in burial sites that are from 600-900AD. The Exact Same type of bead can be found in Roman Jewelry of the Republican period.
        Other finds of these beads on surrounding islands gives a little validity to the idea that there was an ancient Micronesian Kingdom that had Pohnpei as it's capital, and included Flores (um, Bree to slashdotters).
        Some of the big stone disc money found on yap has been proven to have come from from Palau. It was on Yap that evidence was first found of an ancient Alphabet & writing system; examples of it have since been found on The Marianas, Palau, Pohnpei & Kosrae.
        And Pohnpei is perhaps the freakiest place of all. out in the middle of nowhere there are gigantic ruins of an immense stone city called Nan Madol, built out of gigantic magnetized crystalline basalt and carbon dated to at least 200BC. There are man-made tunnels honeycombing the area.
        After that you get into the areas influence on HP Lovecraft, Japanese Platinum Coffins, underwater cities at the end of some of the tunnels, etc.
        But hearing that there are remnants of an unknown subspecies of man, or even a separate branch, in that area isn't very surprising.
        Finding an actual yellow brick road there wouldn't even surprise me that much.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Whiteox (919863)
          Something deep in the recesses of my mind strikes a chord here...
          I vaguely remember a story that a Roman ship was lost and some Roman remains found on a pacific island somewhere.
          Mind you, it could have been a movie I saw once.
          Anyway, if hey do find that wooden hut with remains of a female half buried under it, would someone please check if she's got any shoes on?

          And why is there a strong similarity of Tibetan/Nepalese head-dress with Islander head-dress?
          What's happening?? Why is the room spinning???

          PS Being
          • by Tom_RFD (1254150)
            | I vaguely remember a story that a Roman ship was lost and some Roman remains found on a pacific island somewhere.
            | Mind you, it could have been a movie I saw once.

            _Joe Versus the Volcano_ had Romans and Britons and Hebrews getting lost in the pacific. But I seem to recall something more serious that you may also be recalling. Don't know what it was though.
        • Re:Perhaps... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@NOsPam.hotmail.com> on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @09:54PM (#22724332) Journal
          And Pohnpei is perhaps the freakiest place of all. out in the middle of nowhere there are gigantic ruins of an immense stone city called Nan Madol, built out of gigantic magnetized crystalline basalt and carbon dated to at least 200BC. There are man-made tunnels honeycombing the area.

          Actually, I'm going to Pohnpei in September.

          And while Nan Madol is fascinating, it's not really all that mysterious. There's plenty of documented history [janeresture.com] to both it's construction and use.

          The culture and myths of the area are interesting too.

          Legends tell us that in that era two species existed, Arem (humans) and Sioat (another, less intelligent life form). The Sioat became extinct due to cannibalism, leaving the Arem species.
          http://www.prel.org/products/paced/apr04/re_democracy.htm [prel.org]

          I wonder if the Sioat were smaller as well...

      • by Dread_ed (260158)
        Buttercup: Wesley, what about the HoUSS'es?!?!

        Wesley: Humanoids of Particularly Small Size? I don't think they exist.

  • So... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Corpuscavernosa (996139) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:37PM (#22720258)
    ... midgets (or little people if you prefer) existed many years ago?
    • Re:So... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Drooling Iguana (61479) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:53PM (#22720516)
      Of course. They were created along with the mountain and the trees.
      • Haha funny you mention that. Whatever your origin-of-life stance is, the point of my parent post is how is this article news? I mean anthropology can be interesting and all, but this seems like an underwhelming crossover into "news for nerds." This isn't earth shattering news for anyone, whether evolutionist or creationist.
        • by tompaulco (629533)
          I mean anthropology can be interesting and all, but this seems like an underwhelming crossover into "news for nerds."
          No, but it makes for some good flamewars, which is a source of amusement to the slashdot mods.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by LithiumX (717017)
          It may not be earth shattering, but if there was a species (or subspecies) in the Homo line that could be defined by a radically different form (ie tiny size below anything seen in modern times), that would be interesting.

          The human lineage is mostly made up of multiple snapshots, most of whom are probably no direct relation to anyone alive (ie any random Homo skull dug up is more likely than not part of a lineage similar to ours, but not precisely the same). Finding new populations is always fascinating
          • by Brad1138 (590148)
            if there was a species (or subspecies) in the Homo line that could be defined by a radically different form (ie tiny size below anything seen in modern times), that would be interesting.

            The real question is do they have beards or furry feet?
          • by zerocool^ (112121)

            Evolution uses CVS, then, eh? ...should use git.

            ~Wx
        • What? After the H. Florensis controversy? Gee, it's only the biggest fight in anthropology since the Piltdown Man. How is finding another population of diminutive archaics dated to modern times not huge news? Are you maybe not aware of the ramifications of a 3 foot high, tool making sapian who appeared to swing from branches? (not to be read as a statement of fact, the jury is still out)

          I mean, I can understand you might not be too interested, but most people with an interest in physical anthropology will

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Whiteox (919863)
            According to the author linked with my sig, Floriensis may be remanents of the Badui people.
            Knowledge of the Badui peoples were common among some Indonesian tribes.
            If you look, check out the article on Javanese Mystical Tradition for some background info.
        • by cromar (1103585)
          Everyone knows Aulë [wikipedia.org] created the dwarves! To say otherwise is blasphemy!
      • so Palau is middle earth I had expected it to be bigger from the maps.
    • Someone modded you troll while I was writing this response. For what it's worth I don't think your comment was at all troll-like.

      I thought the article leaned a little too far towards the "hobbit" conclusions and didn't even ask if they were children or even how old they might have been. It's a fascinating discovery and maybe they are some kind of branch species, but it seems more likely, like your comment and TFA suggested, that their diet and inbreeding may have led to them being "midgets."
      • Hey thank you for your comment. I was definitely not trolling even though I knew the troll mod would be forthcoming. I did find TFA very interesting although I didn't find it to be especially earth-shattering...
      • Although not mentioned in this article, children's bones are fairly easy to spot because the ends haven't fused yet (are partially cartilage which isn't preserved). Also, children have juvenile teeth. These are definitely adults.
        • Actually, these are such preliminary findings that they could be children or even dwarfed people. Nature, which is often held a bit above National Geographic among seems to be skeptical: http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080310/full/452133a.html [nature.com] As an anthropologist, I would be thrilled if this turns out to be the same as homo floresiensis, but I'm not jumping to any conclusions until there is some more testing completed. Especially interesting is that it doesn't appear that the brain was unusually small i
          • I'm an anthropologist too, by education, though I work in IT so i'm watching from the sidelines. Didn't realize they hadn't even aged the bones... sounds like they shouldn't have published yet. Checking for unerupted adult teeth in the skulls should be easy enough, though (TFA says they found skulls).
    • I don't believe they exist.
  • Look up the Bog people. There is an exhibit on them at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. They were all tiny people. Plus the Bog actually preserved their bodies as well.
  • Found in a thousand-year-old text in a museum in New New York:

    Puny Humans, One day my race will destroy you all!
    - Morbo, 1000 A. D., modern-day Palau

    Of course, by modern-day, it means ancient.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Where's the tricksyhobbitses tag when you need it?
  • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:49PM (#22720442) Journal
    Glory be, Leprechans found in the South Pacific just before Saint Patrick's Day! I wonder if they found any whiskey bottles or Guiness there as well? And pots of gold?

    I'd link me latest wee journal (Sane Patty's Day) if the bloomin' mods wouldn't mod me offtopic. Oi'll drink to yer health tonight! Cheers!

    -mcgrew
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      They're not Leprechauns, idiot.

      They're trolls.

      Duh.
      • by sm62704 (957197)
        I thought trolls were giant stoners? That's what Tolkien would have me believe...
      • In fact, they are all closely related to the [small brained] trolls that post on slashdot. (although ... they are more correctly called dwarfs. (which is politically incorrect, as dwarfs prefer the term "little people") ... which still accurately defines the trolls ...

        Small things amuse small minds!
  • by rucs_hack (784150) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:51PM (#22720484)
    Silly everyone.

    These are just the pre-alpha build humans that god made while he was in the preliminary human creation development cycle. Height wasn't increased until Homo-Sapiens RC-1.

    I mean really, if you're going to go poring over dev code, you've got to expect some pretty weird stuff.
    • by berwiki (989827)
      you forgot to mention it was only 500 years ago as well.

      otherwise it might not fit into the Standard Model of Creationism.
    • by Jugalator (259273)
      These humans [theonion.com] must have been part of a different build branch then.

      I wonder what happened to them?
    • by MPAB (1074440)
      Did they die of memory leaks?
    • by yuriyg (926419)
      RC-1?!? I thought we are still in the beta mode!
    • ... on the General Organization of Development (GOD) and the human creation development cycle here [youtube.com].

      I think they left out the pre-alpha stage description to avoid criticizing GOD's ability to create a stable release.
    • by Jesus_666 (702802)

      Height wasn't increased until Homo-Sapiens RC-1.
      Actually, they were in the open beta. The community was pissed off when the devs increased the height of homo sapiens; the much larger hitbox was a pretty bad nerf. It was almost as bad as when they took away the venom fangs.

      Granted, it was still nothing like when they removed tool use from the amoeba family.
  • by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:54PM (#22720560) Homepage Journal
    ...as to whether there's any effort to use archaeological DNA extraction techniques to solve the mystery. Earlier Slashdot stories have covered extracting DNA from bones, teeth and (best of all) hair. If the DNA is roughly human and includes evidence of the genetic defect causing the suspected form of dwarfism, then the bones are human. If the DNA can't be sequenced that thoroughly, but the mtDNA shows bones definitely human are direct descendents of bones of uncertain origin, then the bones of uncertain origin cannot be a distinct species. I can understand there being concern over DNA extraction (which tends to be very destructive) when there's very little material, but that's no longer the case. I can also understand concern when there were very few labs capable of the work, but there is such a glut of DNA companies these days that many are barely surviving and are cutting jobs.

    Yes, the work costs money and research grants tend to be minimal, but if the researchers in either camp really wanted answers, they'd find the money. Complicating things further, research funding tends to be proportional on papers published and/or cited. Arguing over the facts gets multiple papers published. Getting hard data gets one paper published. Ergo, it not only costs money now to get hard data, there are costs in the form of reduced funding later. The "best" outcome, from the perspective of the various departments and groups, is therefore to never resolve anything but to continually discover just enough to be able to keep publishing. Vroomfondle would be proud.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Jens Egon (947467)
      As I understand it, there is little chance of recovering DNA traces in the tropics, too hot for presevation.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jericho4.0 (565125)
        You are right that the conditions that these bones were found in (hot, damp cave by the sea) are probably among the worst you could store DNA in, given a big enough sample, modern (and expensive) techniques might be able to pull something out. At least small amounts of DNA have been sequenced from material that was considered useless a few years ago.
  • Obvious (Score:1, Redundant)

    by NotFamous (827147)
    Follow the yellowbrick road...
  • how small? (Score:4, Informative)

    by KillerCow (213458) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @02:55PM (#22720574)
    Single page, ad free version [nationalgeographic.com]

    And the money shot (missing for the summary):

    The smaller, older bones represent people who were 3 to 4 feet (94 to 120 centimeters) tall and weighed between 70 and 90 pounds (32 and 41 kilograms), according to the paper.
  • Wow, I guess Sam found out.
  • woo-hoo! (Score:1, Redundant)

    Further proof that Homo sapiens won! w00t!
  • Because the next thing you know they'll strip naked and trick you into kissing them on the lips. Soon after you'll be escorted away by two police officers who will charge you with sexual assault on a minor while everyone else in the high school points and laughs at you.

    Trust me.
  • island flora and fauna undergo size changes to either gigantic sizes not seen on the continent (for example, the komodo dragon), or to diminuitive sizes (the pygmy rhino, for example). it's called the island rule [pbs.org]

    there's no reason then to be surprised that this effect works on human beings as well. as it is, modern malay and austronesian peoples living on southeast asian islands are generally a little smaller than people from the mainland (generally... the dayak people of borneo are quite tall). and their migrational wave is very recent in human history. so this size change tirck is very easy and quick to pull off

    many people who find news of these hobbit sized archeological fossils in flores and now in palau (just a quick jump from mindanao in the philippines) will be even more suprised to find out that tiny ancient remnant people are very much alive in the philippines: the aeta

    in the big islands of the philippines and other big southeast asian islands there are remnants of melanesian peoples like you see on papua new guinea, deep in the mountains, in tiny, nearly extinct groups that fiercely resist contact and integration into modern society. these people were there long before the austronesian people overwhelmed the coast and eventually everywhere else except the isolated mountains where they cling to existence

    the aeta on luzon [wikipedia.org]. these people are quite tiny

    and yes, you can find still living remnants and historical recollections of these ancient tiny dwarf peoples even on japan, taiwan, thailand, and mainland china [cwo.com]

    Very similar groups of Black people in Asia reside in relative small numbers in the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and in northern Malaysia and southern Thailand in Southeast Asia. In Thailand they are commonly called Sakai. In Malaysia they have been called Orang Asli (Original Man). Pejoratively they are known as Semang, with the connotation of savage. It is very unfortunate that the contributions of these small Black people to monumental high-cultures characterized by urbanization, metallurgy, agricultural science and scripts remain essentially unexamined.

    The presence of diminutive Africoids (whom Chinese historians called "Black Dwarfs") in early southern China during the period of the Three Kingdoms (ca. 250 C.E.) is recorded in the book of the Official of the Liang Dynasty (502-556 C.E.). In Taiwan there are recollections of a group of people now said to be extinct called "Little Black Man."

    "They were described as short, dark-skinned people with short curly hair....These people, presumably Negritos, disappeared about 100 years ago. Their existence was mentioned in many Chinese documents of the Ching Dynasty concerning Taiwan."

    Similar groups of Black people have been identified in Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia, and it seems almost certain that at one time a belt of Black populations of this type covered much of Asia.


    so if one were to extrapolate to even smaller islands, to even further back in time, it is not surprising at all to imagine entire islands of hobbit sized people on islands all over southeast asia. really not surprising at all. all since wiped out though, a long time ago. if one studies the history of the haast eagle or the moa on new zealand (island giants) after the maori arrived, one gains an appreciation for how fragile island ecosystems are that most every zoologist possesses. and, by extension, how fragile island peoples are, culturally and genetically (disease and such) when contact with the wider world is established

    however, this whole notion of separate species is rather doubtful. they probably were entirely homo sapiens. if one understands that smallness in size is not a very hard trick to pull off genetically for any creature to evolve quite quickly and comprise very little genetic change, then one can see tiny island people in man's recent past is not very strange at all

    • ...is that the reasons for the different species claim are that the brain cavity shows differences from those found in diminutive humans and that the tools found are more advanced than might be expected from human brains scaled down to the same degree. Neither of these are convincing or definitive, but they are suggestive that this isn't simply the Island Rule or one of the genetic conditions identified as causing dwarfism. One of the problems with the research limiting itself to structure and form is that
      • you can talk about modern malays showing somewhat smaller size due to the island rule, and the earlier remant negrito populations throughout southeast asia representing an earlier wave of migration, showing an even greater island rule effect

        then there is no reason to postulate an even earlier wave, or waves, of homo sapiens or earlier human relatives, showing an extreme island rule effect in terms of their body size, now all since extinct. perhaps one can say that southeast asian islands represent the last
    • by CODiNE (27417)
      That's interesting... what about Samoans?
    • island flora and fauna undergo size changes to either gigantic sizes not seen on the continent (for example, the komodo dragon), or to diminuitive sizes (the pygmy rhino, for example). it's called the island rule

      I read the article you linked to, and it was very informative. It also makes intuitive sense that a relatively small isolated population of any species could tend to change size over time. In large populations, such as those on continents, the large number of individuals will keep the average sizes relatively constant barring any significant evolutionary pressure to change sizes. In the small populations on isolated islands, random "mutations" to be larger or smaller are much more likely to significantl

    • by evilviper (135110)

      as it is, modern malay and austronesian peoples living on southeast asian islands are generally a little smaller than people from the mainland (generally... the dayak people of borneo are quite tall). and their migrational wave is very recent in human history. so this size change tirck is very easy and quick to pull off

      That's not exactly compelling. Minor size differences can happen in a generation, just due to differences in nutrition. Without DNA evidence that genetic changes are entirely the cause, it

  • To find out that such interesting creatures walked the earth in historical times and died out before there was a chance to study them. They were only a whisper away from us.
  • "The remains are between 900 and 2,900 years old and align with Homo sapiens..."

    That has to be a typo. Did they miss the word "thousand" before the word "years" perhaps?

    • Not if you keep in mind that Earth is only 6,000 years old.
    • No, if they were that old, they wouldn't have lived at the same time as homo sapiens. Considering the recent flores find, 1000 years BC is not so hard to believe. Note that the younger bones are from regular humans, its the older ones that are interesting.
  • In other news, "Lucky Charms originated in Palau about 1,000BC."
  • genetic isolation... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rogue Haggis Landing (1230830) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @03:21PM (#22720882)
    I think that this doesn't really have anything to do with the Flores skeleton. TFA says that the bones would appear to be within the species Homo sapiens, and don't have the small brain size of the Flores find. There are oddities beyond the height (small eye sockets, some lack chins), but apparently nothing really out there. From TFA:

    The early Palauans' limited diet, combined with a tropical climate, absence of predators, a small founding population, and genetic isolation, may have produced "these very odd features and very small body size," Berger said.

    TFA also notes that there were no big animals to exploit on the island, and apparently no fishing until much later. So it really seems like just a regular human population that was small and isolated and changed in odd ways, rather than a distinct species or anything like that.

  • ...now!
  • So... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dancindan84 (1056246) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @03:55PM (#22721262)

    The smaller, older bones represent people who were 3 to 4 feet (94 to 120 centimeters) tall and weighed between 70 and 90 pounds (32 and 41 kilograms), according to the paper.
    They found a grade 5 classroom?
    • nah,

      its just ASIMO's more organic cousins

      they became extinct because they fell down some stairs and got stuck there,

      poor fellas

    • Having a BMI of at least 36, the 3-feet guy (or gal, who cares) should go diet
  • They are JAWAS!

    Utinni!
  • by RealErmine (621439) <commerce@wordPOL ... et minus painter> on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @04:23PM (#22721606)
    It worked! The Debigulator worked!
  • by snowwrestler (896305) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @04:35PM (#22721740)
    I was just visiting some friends who are living in Palau and we went right by this cave on a snorkeling trip. One of the friends is a PA (physician's assistant) and recently served as the medical support for a crew shooting an episode of the Discovery show "Bone Detective." One of their sites was this cave.

    The archaeology and anthropology of Palau is poorly researched and there is little known about the ancient cultures that lived there. My wife is an anthropologist who works at the Smithsonian and had trouble finding much material on Palau to read before travelled there.

    The archaeology may also be endangered. On a sea kayaking trip in Nikko Bay, off the island of Babeldaob, we visited another cave that was known to have bones in it. But the bones were gone, and there was evidence of a hasty digging project in the floor of the cave. It was definitely not a research dig--no gridlines, no brushes or sifts, just a big hole that had clearly been dug with a shovel. We speculated that the recent attention had inspired some people to collect antiquities to sell. Hopefully that does not accelerate.
  • Now we know where the Roaming Gnomes origins are.
  • But the Palauan remains suggest these features may just be a consequence of insular dwarfism, a shrinking process that some scientists attribute to the stresses of a small island environment.

    Reminds me of the dwarf mammoth bones (dated to 1700BC) found on Wrangel Island in the Arctic. The also mentions fossils found on Sardinia and the Channel Islands of the coast of California. [wikipedia.org]

  • Skull not bones (Score:4, Insightful)

    by edwardpickman (965122) on Tuesday March 11, 2008 @07:26PM (#22723328)
    The point is not bone size but skull shape. The Flores skull is exactly the same as a Homo Erectus with the exception of brain size. The brain size doesn't match proportions of either humans or Erectus. It's possible that Flores broke off from the family tree before Erectus. The disease theories don't take into account all the skull differences. I've seen lots of Erectus skulls and that was my gut reaction the first time I saw it. It looks like an Erectus child except it's an adult skull. No one has explained the differences in the teeth and that can't be caused by brain disease let alone brow and face differences. Pygmies look like regular humans. Flores didn't.
  • Nonono, these people were not hobbits, or elves, or leprechauns. They were on an island (and not Ireland), which makes them...

    Lilliputians [wikipedia.org]!
  • The article is nice and National Geographic is a fine publication but it is not a scientific journal. Please, when you discuss science, link to the scientific paper itself, so people can comment on the information unfiltered and undistorted by the popular media. The paper is here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001780 [plosone.org]

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