Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hobbits among us

A few days ago, I found and tweeted this headline: "Will Hobbit tooth yield ancient DNA?"
The "hobbits" of the Indonesian islands are a subject I've been meaning tor ead more about and I thought it was about time that I actually did it.  
Paleoanthropologists are preparing to drill into a 18,000 year old fossil tooth in order to compare its DNA with the rest of the human family tree.  Back in 2004, highly unusual hominid fossils were found on the island of Flores in Indonesia.  The skeletons were of diminutive, human-like bipedals maxing out at 3 feet tall with skulls the size of grapefruits.  This was especially unusually since at the same time of their existence, "normal" sized humans were spreading out to colonize the world.  Could this be an offshoot of humanity that had developed in isolation on this island?
Because of their size, no time was wasted in naming the fossils "hobbits" after the race in Lord of the Rings.  Catchy name or not, debate began to stir within the scientific community as to whether or not these "hobbits" were in fact no different from the rest of early man, except that they were nutritionally deficient or perhaps carried a genetic tendency towards dwarfism.  These are the questions that the DNA samples will hopefully clear up. Don't place all your hopes on it, however.  Getting accurate DNA data from fossils is tricky business under any circumstance, but especially so if the bones come from warmer climes such as Flores.

Should the evidence bear out the theory of "hobbits," this would indeed be a spectacular find.  It would mean the discovery of an entirely new species of human that once existed.  If that is indeed the case, what else might be out there for us to discover?  What other divergent offshoots could there be from humanity?  Folklore from around the world is replete with tales of "little people," from leprechauns to wee folk.  Why not toss in hobbits?  It's all conjecture of course, yet citizens of Sri Lanka speak of the nittaewo, small humanoids that bear a remarkable resemblance to the description of the "hobbits."  A Coast-to-Coast AM listener recently sent in a sketch of a "little man" that is sighted from time to time in their house.  On the island of Flores itself, the current population describes what they call ebu gogo, tiny humanoids identical to the described hobbits.  Might this also bode well for other cryptids such as Bigfoot? 

Henry Gee, the editor of Nature, seemed to think so. In a now-famous editorial entitled “Flores, God and Cryptozoology,” he forever tied the finding of the “Hobbits” to cryptozoology. He wrote: “The discovery that Homo floresiensis survived until so very recently, in geological terms, makes it more likely that stories of other mythical, human-like creatures such as Yetis are founded on grains of truth….Now, cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold.” (the preceding paragraph is from Loren Coleman's Cryptomundo.)

Let's hope so.  Because more and more I am becoming intrigued by the "cryptoterrestrials" hypothesis of Mac Tonnies (God rest him); offshoots of humanity that not only survived but thrived beneath our notice.  After all, humans have lost a goodly amount of our body hair over the past few thousand years (most of us anyway).  If the "hobbits" survived, might they have not lost the same amount?  And if they lived in an underground setting, might their eyes not get larger?  Yet still retain their small stature and thin, monkey-like arms?  Wouldn't they, maybe, look something like this?

Like I said, all conjecture.  Then again...

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1 comment:

  1. And this just in: