Homo floresiensis

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Flores Man

A long-lost cousin has been discovered, Homo floresiensis, or Flores Man. It's especially dramatic for a number of reasons. It's relatively recent, with the youngest specimen only 18,000 years old, but it is most closely related to Homo erectus. This species was also minute, only 3 feet tall, and tiny-brained. Here we have a group of small, specialized human relatives, living contemporaneously with Homo sapiens, on isolated islands in Indonesia. It's like discovering that Munchkins were real. You can read more here:

4 TrackBacks

[ Later: More at The Panda's Thumb, including a link to a nice summary by Carl Zimmer: "but if evolution can produce homo floresiensis, who knows where a few thousand years on Mars or another solar system could take our descendants?" ]... Read More

All my life the lure of the old stories about dwarves and giants and elves and ogres always held a unreasoning fascination that seemed all out of proportion to the experience of daily life. Just what is it that draws so many people to love these old st... Read More

The Little People from Laughing ~ Knees on October 29, 2004 12:50 AM

All my life the lure of the old stories about dwarves and giants and elves and ogres always held a unreasoning fascination that seemed all out of proportion to the experience of daily life. Just what is it that draws so many people to love these old st... Read More

The Little People from Laughing ~ Knees on October 29, 2004 1:03 AM

All my life the lure of the old stories about dwarves and giants and elves and ogres always held a unreasoning fascination that seemed all out of proportion to the experience of daily life. Just what is it that draws so many people to love these old st... Read More

69 Comments

A dramatic discovery. Very exciting. And one can’t help imagining the discovery of a small extant population of another Homo species on some little island in the pacific, unlikely though that may be.

This is one of those BIG DEALS that you only see come in science once every decade or two. Not subscribing to Nature, I’m hoping an accessible source like SciAm comes out with all the details. This is pretty phenomonal. We have Neandertals managing to hang out in Spain until about 30,000 years ago, and now another cousin is discovered who was in Indonesia 18,000 years ago, while moderns were well on the way to spreading all over the globe.

It’s probably too much to hope that Flores Man has managed to survive somewhere in the jungles of south Asia, and I find it a little to pat to talk about legends of the wee little people being these apparent descendants of earlier H. erectus migrations into Asia. Still this is awesome stuff.

We have Neandertals managing to hang out in Spain until about 30,000 years ago, and now another cousin is discovered who was in Indonesia 18,000 years ago, while moderns were well on the way to spreading all over the globe.

There’s also evidence that suggest Homo erectus populations in the South Pacific stuck around until ca. 30,000 years ago meaning three other species of Homo were contemporaneous with H. sapiens. Pretty remarkable.

Here is a very nice summary of the significance of the find by John Hawks, an anthropologist (he has a nice blog too in general).

Just to maintain the normal comfort level of this forum, here is the anticipated reaction from the Great Unwashed. I’d hoped for something a bit more, uh, scriptural, but there it is.

Hmmmm… Did the investigators find any evidence indicating whether H. floresiensis possessed a soul?

As have the cryptozoologists (see comment #9188), the Creationists have wasted no time in responding.

This article from Answers in Genesis says

Soggy dwarf bones An Indonesian island reveals the existence of an extinct group of pygmy humans by Carl Wieland, Australia

The remains have many features strikingly similar to Homo erectus, which we have also long maintained is really just a variety of Homo sapiens. The researchers who discovered the Flores bones apparently think that they are dwarfed descendants of Homo erectus. We would agree.

In short, the discovery is exciting and interesting. Evolutionists are surprised and astonished by it. However, they will doubtless find ways to fit it into their ever-flexible evolutionary framework, even using it to reinforce evolutionary notions. The Flores discovery fits very nicely into a biblical view of history.

I guess all the homo species are just variations in a kind.

Cheers, Dave Thomas

Like so many other things, all of this was predicted by that giant among atheists, Frank Zappa:

City of tiny lites Don’t you wanna go Hear the tiny auto horns When they tiny blow Tiny lightnin’ In the storm Tiny blankets Keep you warm Tiny pillows Tiny sheets Talkin’ bout those tiny cookies That the peoples eats City of tiny lites Maybe you should know That it’s over there In the tiny dirt somewhere

(“City of Tiny Lights”, from the Sheik Yerbouti 2LP)

What great timing! National Geographic’s excellent new issue clearly and concisely states Darwin’s revolutionary theory for everyone to read. And now we have an astounding new discovery off of Indonesia. Could this be the spark that lights the fire of enlightenment for the nearly 50% of the country who still clings to fantasy of the literal biblical interpretation of history? Likely not, but we can only hope it inspires a few!

Zappa, hell. It was predicted by Matt Groening! (Look! I’ve created Lutherans!)

P.S.: Perhaps I should add that Mr. Groening is a big fan of Mr. Zappa’s work.

OK, so I read the original article and a couple of others, including the one kindly pointed to by ‘flint’ above, that tend to take the position that this is not another step on the path to todays version of humans.

I am left believing nothing other than that either something closely related to the ape, or the human species has been found.

My question is, so what ? From an evolutionary point of view this can neither prove nor disprove any version of evolution, nor creationism. It certainly would be of scientific and sociological interest, but I can’t see that it has any more significance than that.

Live wolves appear closely related to live dogs. Does that mean the dog has evolved from the wolf or vice-versa ? Am I too slow ?

If we’re all evolving toward the perfect single organism of the future (having begun as a single organism way back in a primordial soup), why are there so many different evolutionary paths in the same place ? subject to the same evolutionary forces ? Why start as a single organism and evolve to … a single organism ? I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Jebus, no wonder it doesn’t make any sense to you, if you think “we’re all evolving toward the perfect single organism of the future.” We aren’t. Evolutionary biology does not and never has claimed that we are. Your problem is that you are completely wrong, probably about everything there is to know about science.

Robert H:

Evolution produces the tree of life. Each species, once branched off a prior branch, is forever independent and doesn’t re-merge with any other branch. Over time, the result is exactly the opposite of what you think - more and more species appearing, with old ones going extinct.

Think of life as consisting of countless different critters, each gradually adapting to an ecological niche. Think of the niche as being a moving target, because the Earth is not a stable place on these time scales. The goal of evolution is to survive to breed one more time, a timespan varying from minutes (for bacteria) to years (for you). That’s as long-range as evolution works. There’s no grand plan; it’s one day at a time.

Finding new life forms, either living or extinct, is always exciting to at least a few specialist geeks. When the life form is even somewhat similar to our exalted selves (ahem), then lots of people get excited. This is because people are vain.

Flint: Finding new life forms, either living or extinct, is always exciting to at least a few specialist geeks. When the life form is even somewhat similar to our exalted selves (ahem), then lots of people get excited. This is because people are vain.

Learning about where we came from, about the paths that - but for the grace of contingency - our lineage might have gone down, discovering a close relative we never knew existed… this is all vanity? I think not.

Did AIG say whether these guys were on the ark or not?

Russell:

Am I permitted to disagree with you, albeit politely? It is exactly vanity. This isn’t intended as a criticism, but just an observation. Of course we are most interested in ourselves. As a cat owner, I notice that my cats pay no attention when their food is devoured by possums and raccoons, but let a strange cat get anywhere nearby, and they all have apoplexy. Cats are attuned to cats, humans to humans (or similar enough).

I would argue that the entire evolution/creation debate takes place for reasons of vanity only, and for no other reason. If scientists would only say that OK, maybe everything else evolved but our vain selves were created in the image of the creationists’ god, then evolution would be as warmly embraced as gravity and color TV. But evolution says WE, that is, MY grandfather, was a monkey (in the vernacular). This insult is intolerable, precisely because we are vain.

And there is really no other reason why finding this distant cousin should be more exciting than finding a previously undiscovered Cnidarian. I’m certainly more excited myself. This finding resembles ME! That’s vanity.

That is a very peculiar comment. So the problem is that we’re just too vain, and unwilling to compromise?

You’ve got it all wrong. Scientists aren’t in this to make nice, or let people feel good about their myths. It’s an attempt to describe reality as best we can. The truth does not lie halfway between what the evidence says, and what people’s superstitions claim.

i wish i knew more about them

Robert H asked

Am I too slow ?

Yes.

RBH

This finding resembles ME! That’s vanity.

Maybe if you’re Danny DeVito.

An exciting find, but maybe for reasons not apparent to you guys. Wait till the genewennies get ahold of these. Hopefully they will have someone more competent than the bunch that came up with the Neanderthal procedure i.e. not filter too much out so as to slant the results.

Wolpoff and the Regional guys will love this.

No way this is an “evolved” Africanus or is apelike/primitive. I hate it when idiots print such prejudical junk. It clearly is homo.

EX: Not even close to morphology of an australopithicene–even in Johanson’s wildest national geographic funded dream (gotta love the pic Nature already has published—very, very uncool/scientific with so little evidence on bodyhair,etc. Says they found needles. Why is the pic then naked?).

If it had an australopithicene pevis, it did not have the same gait as homo and had oppositional thumbs/big toes–see Oxnard, etc. Same reason Lucy did not make the Laotoli footprints.

This looks to me like a dwarf erectus. By the way, the classic Erectus or Neanderthal is at ONE END of the spectum of skull characteristics. Most are not so severe–note the Mt. Carmel skull that has flopped between Neanderthal and Modern several times. Don’t forget the Cro Magnon skulls with the HEAVY brow ridges, receeding chins, occupital buns and flat domes that they DON’T show on TV.

This find will hopefully make people realize the elasticity of the HUMAN skull morphology and that the question is how the brain is WIRED and not it’s size.

Remember, you can demonstrate with Modern skulls a spectrum of characteristics that go Nearly to Neanderthal/Erectus. Too much homo speciation hair splitting.

Compare this find to Kow Swamp and Mongo Man. I’ll bet we later find the Dating is a sloppy morass too–very politically driven. No way these guys walked to the island either.

From an evolutionary point of view this can neither prove nor disprove any version of evolution, nor creationism.

this is familiar. I think it was in the Meyer discussion that some creationist said that new discovery x neither proved nor disproved evolution. Do they seriously think scientists are still trying to prove evolution? I guess because they think it’s unproven, they imagine scientists are trying to prove it. Here’s a clue, creationists: all those journals, papers, and books aren’t about proving evolution. they’re about understanding the nuances and details. Nobody tries to ‘prove’ evolution anymore. That question’s resolved.

PZ Myers:

So the problem is that we’re just too vain, and unwilling to compromise? You’ve got it all wrong. Scientists aren’t in this to make nice, or let people feel good about their myths. It’s an attempt to describe reality as best we can.

Of course. My claim is that vanity is the driving force behind creationism. Science in general, and evolution in particular, position human beings as simply one more twig on a very large tree, no “higher” (or lower) than any other, no less contingent or more exceptional in the big picture. As far as evolution is concerned, no organism is particularly special, including us. As Gould wrote (paraphrasing here), if the whole process started over the resulting life forms would all be entirely different, every time.

But scientists are human, and humans find humans most interesting, so finds like this one ARE exciting. Hopefully we can recognize our entirely normal evolutionary circumstances even as we satisfy this understandably self-centered curiosity.

Creationists have people on a pedestal, created by a god of their own devising in that god’s own image, poof all at once, and this vision is simply not subject to compromise. And THAT is vanity.

This is a surprizing discovery. This will radically change the theories of human origins. You just don’t see these types of discoveries everyday.

3 feet! That makes African pygmies look tall.

What are they going to unearth next, ancient bones of a giant race?

That reminds me. Do you remember the Homo Erectus Meganthropus? only a few jaw fragments and teeth have been found, but these are massive; like twice as big as a modern mans. Some estimate he was 7 or 8 feet tall and 500-700 lbs.

This will radically change the theories of human origins.

No, it won’t. It’s an exciting discovery, but it doesn’t necessarily mean much for human origins.

keith B >”Did AIG say whether these guys were on the ark or not?”

Thats bloody hillarious man. I don’t know how people can still cling to those rediculous fables

Robert H>

I suggest you read more on the topic and educate yourself further. I dont know how anyone can still disbelieve evolutionary theory. They must be throw backs from the darkages. We can literally see evolution occuring continuiously in lower life forms with short life spans. Insects and other short lived creatures are constantly changing. Take the fruit fly for example that sometimes decides to have 4 wings instead of 2 and will drastically change over short peroids of time depending on what leads to continued survival. Or look at moths in england who were white to start with but turned gray as the air became filled with smog. later to turn back to white when the air cleared.

evolution is a trial an error method of progress. It is flaws and deviations in genes that create the changes… if the change is good the creature survives and passes its genes if not then it dies and its poor genes die with it. We evolve literally by mistake… “we pull a homer” when we hit a good change… its a fluke.. more often the changes suck.

if you possibly can doubt evolution because your missing a few brain chromosomes like many people seem to be… get yourself a fruit fly coloney and see it happening with your own two eyes… the fruit flies will be watching you with two… no wait now its 4… wait… now its 2 again… wow… (P.S. additional body parts such as 4 eyes usually lead to more trouble then they are worth so they often are not successfull… go see for yourself.)

Carl Zimmer:

…Homo floresiensis branched off from Homo erectus and evolved into a dwarf form…

…The Asian population of Homo erectus had little, if anything, to do with our own origins.…

“This will radically change the theories of human origins” - Yes it will. This specimen clearly show us, how little brain is necessary for making tools, using fire and collective hunting. No one of these behaviours led to the big size of our brains. Long distance throwing (useless in a tropical forest island) and language (probably not developed by Homo floresiensis) were the most important behaviours for human brain evolution.

I originally posted this on The Bathroom Wall, but perhaps this is a better place for it.

In case anybody is interested, or perhaps someone who is more knowledgeable on the subject than I wants to write a rebuttal; WingNutDaily columnist Kelly Hollowell wrote an opinion piece on Flores man, Eroding evolution’s believability.

She claims that H. floresiensis “ … adds no support to evolutionary theory” and concludes:

All contradictions of the traditional theory ignored, evolutionary dogma continues to be shoveled with the dirt that uncovered Homo flores. Yet there is good news. The bones of Homo flores found are apparently not fossilized. That means scientists are hopeful they might yield DNA that could shed the truth on evolutionary theory and the absurdity of human descent from apes by proving Homo flores is genetically human.

“Kelly Hollowell, J.D., Ph.D., is a scientist, patent attorney and adjunct law professor of bioethics.”

Ph.D in what? She’s a lawyer. Or does having a BFA make me a scientist, too?

Hi Jason Spaceman,

Kelly Hallowell’s article is pure propaganda. Homo floresiensis doesn’t affect evolutionary theory in general, quite the reverse! He underlines, that human evolution follows just the same rules, known from other animals. It was the multiregional hypothesis of human evolution that caused some problems from evolutionary point of view. The evidence, that an isolated population of humans has developed other characteristics matches well with evolutionary theory.

The small brain is a challenge, but only to the favoured so far explanations of human brain evolution and not for evolutionary theory in general.

In my opinion the most important aspect of this remarkable discovery is that Homo floresiensis is telling us something about our own future. If Homo genome is so flexible new human species can arise in the period of forced isolation due to war or climate change. Science can help such development if some population decides in the future to “improve” their genome. The civilization and modern medicine are already influencing our evolution, but we do not know what will be the final result.

In my opinion the most important aspect of this remarkable discovery is that Homo floresiensis is telling us something about our own future. If Homo genome is so flexible new human species can arise in the period of forced isolation due to war or climate change. Science can help such development if some population decides in the future to “improve” their genome. The civilization and modern medicine are already influencing our evolution, but we do not know what will be the final result.

Hi Davor Juretic,

this are interesting thoughts. Before Homo floresiensis the “cerebral rubicon” was an important borderline between humans and prehumans - a human should have a clear bigger brain than known from apes. Although this borderline isn’t clear defined in ccm, I think it was justified.

But what about Homo floresiensis? He has been classified as Homo (human), because he seems to be a descendant from Homo erectus and couldn’t be called “prehuman” for that reason. Nevertheless, taking in account his brain volume and the cerebral rubicon - critereon, he is not human. Maybe the only solution is, to call him a “posthuman”.

I told my friends small people had really existed just based on the Irish legend of the Leprachaun. It is using intuition on the reading available. Out-of-context Man can not decipher information handed down. The probabilities seem unreal. I always felt the Chinese dragon had been true. It is an ancient country and people. Small people (floresiensis) have become true! I predict all the mythology of small hominins is true. The Flores find matches local verbal hand-down. Legend is rich in Scandanavia, Germany and Ireland. There may have been several forms of several sizes, both black and white. Big ears was defence from the tigers. Would someone please excavate in the caves on the N & S sides of the Harz mountains in Germany, and also in the Hohenstein Region. You will find more evidence!

[A question for the brite sparks, what really influences a small body and small mind?

The adaptive influences of the enviroment, when pygmies live in Africa with extemely tall tribes around them.

Gene mutational influences…adaptive to the enviroment, appears are major hurdle here to explain small animals and people.] :)

The adaptive influences of the enviroment, when pygmies live in Africa with extemely tall tribes around them.

Gene mutational influences … adaptive to the enviroment, appears are major hurdle here to explain small animals and people

The tall tribes don’t like the way the pygmies taste.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on October 27, 2004 3:58 PM.

An ID Curriculum? was the previous entry in this blog.

Evolvability: RNA and The Gems of “Junk” DNA is the next entry in this blog.

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