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The Strangest Recent Scientific Discoveries



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The Hobbits have been found.

A species of tiny humans have been found on the island of Flores, Indonesia by anthropologists Peter Brown and Michael Morwood along with a joint Australian-Indonesian team of paleoanthropologists and archaeologists in September 2003. Since the discovery there have been numerous debates about these diminutive skeletons.

In a 2005 study, anthropologist Teuku Jacob, suggested that one of the skulls was a microcephalic modern human. Paleoneurologist Dean Falk revealed distinct differences by comparing the Homo floresiensis skull with ten microcephalic brains. In 2007 a study of the carpal bones of H. floresiensis found similarities to those of a chimpanzee or Australopithecus and they were significantly different from the bones of modern humans. Joints were studied and found more similar to early humans and apes.

The eight skeletons are dated from 38,000 to 13,000 years old with the oldest being about 74,000 years old. The cave held stone implements of a small size. The tools were made with the prepared-core technique which has otherwise been confined to Neanderthals and modern humans. This technique is a sophisticated technique which sheds doubt also on these people being microcephalic.

H. floresiensis had no evidence of a bony prominence suggesting a chin and a low twist in the forearm bones similar to those found in the chimpanzee. A fairly complete skeleton and near complete skull of a thirty year old female shows her to have been about 1.06 m or 3 ft. 6 in. in height. She is thought to have weighed about 25 kg or 55 lbs. The craniofacial features have some unique features. These are: a distinct maxillary canine fossa, a clearly delimited mandibular mental trigone, moderate bossing of the frontal and parietal squama, a lateral prominence on the temporal mastoid process, reduced temporal juxtamastoid eminences and an en maison cranial vault profile with the greatest interparietal breadth high on the vault.
Despite having an extremely small brain at 380 cubic cm or about the size of a grapefruit, the size of region 10 of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which is associated with self-awareness is about the same size of modern humans, despite the much smaller size of the brain. Despite these differences most of the anthropologists have agreed that they had a vocabulary and used language.

These people used fire to cook Stegodon, a primitive type of elephant, Komodo Dragons, and giant rats. The Stegodon species which evolved on Flores are the smallest known of the species, about the size of a water buffalo. The Stegodon size necessitated cooperative hunting skills.

Some of the anthropologists have theorized that the H. floresiensis lived later than 1200 years ago because of the local legends. The legends tell of a tiny race of people who robbed the fields of food. The local people took food and left it beside the cave on gourd plates. The tiny humans even ate the plates. They were dubbed the hungry people by the indigenous people of the island. The majority appears to have become extinct with the Stegodon because of a volcanic eruption.

How they came to be on the island is still a mystery. It is assumed by Morwood they arrived by a water vessel. He also suggests they could have been average sized Homo erectus, standing about 5 ft. 10 in., which began to shrink in size due to limited resources. Hot and humid weather could also have been a factor. A smaller surfaced body is easier to cool off than a body which is larger. The pygmies of Africa are small due to the heat and humidity. Insular dwarfism is one of the prevalent theories. This is caused by limited gene pool.

Attempts are being made to extract mitochondrial DNA from the unfossilized bones. This seems unlikely because of the degradation of DNA due to the warm tropical climate. Contamination from the surrounding environment of the ground is also likely. The bones being unfossilized are the consistency of "wet blotting paper" and must be dried out where they lay before being moved.

We may never know the origins of the Hobbits or how they came to exist yet they are one of the more fascinating recent discoveries in the anthropological field.

My resources include:
Wikipedia
Science Daily
ABC News

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