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Hobbit News

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 2nd, 2012

Homo floresiensis

Excitement reigned in 2003, with the find of the Hobbits!

Now more and more news is revealing some interesting facts.

Homo erectus emerged in Africa some two million years ago, and rapidly spread across Asia and possibly southern Europe as well (Britain was probably only occupied a million years on, by later human species). It is possible that erectus hung on in Java until as recently as 50,000 years ago, making this species by far the longest-lived of all the humans. And during that time, it begat a whole tribe of descendants. These included Homo antecessor and Heidelberg Man, with the latter giving rise to three recent successors: the Neanderthals (who lived in Europe and the Near East), Homo sapiens (“Wise Man”), and a mysterious third kind of human, the Denisovans, who are known only from a single site in Siberia.

Of our now-extinct cousins, the Neanderthals are by far the best-known. It was believed that they were dim-witted brutes – and, as it happens, our direct ancestors. It turns out that neither was the case. True, the Neanderthals’ societies were probably smaller and simpler than those of Homo sapiens, but they buried their dead, were skilled tool-makers and hunters, and are thought to have used language. Similarly, over the past few decades, they have gone from being regarded as our direct ancestors to a side-branch that we may have helped drive to extinction.

What we have also now discovered – and this came as a real surprise to many scientists – is that humans and Neanderthals actually interbred. Reconstructions of the Neanderthal genome were recently made by a team led by Svante Pääbo, who is based in Germany. The genome was compared with those of living people from various regions. The comparisons suggest that the ancestors of people outside of Africa must have mingled with the Neanderthals some 50,000 years ago; as a consequence, the majority of modern humans are a tiny bit Neanderthal. So, while they disappeared about 30,000 years ago, their DNA did not.

The Neanderthals occupied the western parts of Eurasia until modern humans took over, but when the team which put together their genome turned its attention to the east, it came up with another surprise. Fossils found in the Denisova Cave in Siberia turned out to date from about 50,000 years ago. One finger bone had exceptionally well-preserved DNA, allowing its genome to be reconstructed and compared with those of Neanderthals and various modern humans.

This bone, it turned out, belonged to another group entirely, closer to Neanderthals than modern humans: the Denisovans. Today, there is only one group of people alive who show traces of their DNA – the aboriginal peoples of Australasia, whose ancestors must have interbred with Denisovans living in south-east Asia on their way south.

In short, over the past few hundred thousand years (a mere sliver of time in geological terms), there were perhaps half a dozen kinds of human all alive at the same time, [my emphasis] occasionally meeting and very occasionally having cross-species sex.

+++

This is an important point for hominologists and cryptozoologists to ponder. Gone are the notions that only one form of hominoids existed, one after another, on Earth. Instead, what many of us have said for decades, that we have not been alone and are not alone is being proven by the fossil record with almost every new unique discovery.

+++

But there was another, much stranger, human-like species alive as recently as a few thousand years ago – a tiny, mysterious creature whose discovery was one of the most sensational of the last decade. East of the large island of Java is scattered a remote, beautiful, tropical archipelago. Until 2004, it was thought that only modern humans had reached these small Indonesian islands. But in that year, two sensational papers were published in Nature announcing that the remains of a new species had been excavated in Liang Bua Cave on the island of Flores.

This extraordinary little creature, named Homo floresiensis (aka the Hobbit), was only about one metre tall and very small-brained. However, there is evidence that the Hobbits were intelligent: Liang Bua Cave contained evidence of tool-making, butchery of animal carcasses, and fire. What was even more remarkable was the fact that Homo floresiensis survived there until about 17,000 years ago.

So who were these Hobbits, and where did they come from? At first, it was assumed that they were castaways, descendants of Homo erectus who had somehow got to Flores, perhaps by boat. Due to the limited resources available on their new island home, the species then started to shrink (a process known as island dwarfing).

The latest studies of the Hobbit bones, however, have led to the radical idea that these tiny people were in fact descended from something even more primitive than Homo erectus – yet another species, whose ancestors emerged from Africa two million years ago or more, and then evolved in isolation in south-east Asia, finally disappearing only within the last 20 millennia.

So given there were all these forms of “human” over the past million years, what happened to the rest of them to leave us unchallenged? Well, we don’t know when Homo erectus disappeared, unless the Hobbit is its direct descendant. And we have no idea what happened to the Denisovans. But in the case of the Neanderthals, their final demise seems to have been the result of a double whammy: climate change, and the arrival of a competitor – us. We most likely out-competed them for food and other resources, making better tools and being helped through the bad times by our larger and more organised societies.

Whether the arrival of Homo sapiens in Flores was also the final straw that finished off the Hobbit is still unknown; it is possible that a massive volcanic eruption was responsible. But in a final twist to the story, it seems that Africa could have been home to yet another species of human within the last 50,000 years, based on signs of possible ancestral DNA in modern African populations, and fossils found in Nigeria and Congo. Could ancient humans, thought to have been extinct hundreds of thousands of years earlier, have survived in central Africa far longer than anyone suspected? There have been some extraordinary discoveries in the past decade, and we can expect even more in the ones to come.

You may read more of Chris Stringer’s article here. He is a research leader in human origins at the British Natural History Museum, and author of The Origin of Our Species, (Allen Lane).

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


16 Responses to “Hobbit News”

  1. Hapa responds:

    Its times like these I wished that the so-called Megahtropus fossils of southeast Asia were better understood and catalogued; if it could be proven that indeed a race of Giant hominid existed, i.e. it was actually admitted by science to have been a real species (there is some murkiness which for now has overturned the previous conclusion that Meganthropus was a bonifide giant hominid), that alone could go very far in convincing scientists about the plausibility of giant bipedal apes in the world.

    See the following for details about the shaky taxonomic situation with Meganthropus.

  2. PNW Bigfoot via Facebook responds:

    =)

  3. paul_r responds:

    What’s truly fascinating is the location and what it implies to the existence of Orang pendak.

  4. Nominay responds:

    No doubt the evolutionary range of Homo floresiensis and Homo erectus has something to do with Bigfoot. I’ve always believed that Bigfoot is some form of H. erectus - an early form that branched off into a megafauna, wholly, ice age hominid, relying more on its physicality rather than technology. Homo floresiensis could be the same thing but a southern, isolated dwarf version.

  5. PoeticsOfBigfoot responds:

    Paul r, what are the implications? I’m missing how this relates to cryptozoology, since it’s describing new information about known species. Help me out!

  6. DWA responds:

    …and of course the sasquatch and yeti aren’t real. No way.

    When what we know gets routinely tossed on its head every few years – remember when “cross-species sex” wasn’t possible, because that was how the word ‘species’ was defined? – you have to chuckle at the quaint straws the uninformed cling to.

  7. flame821 responds:

    I’m trying to remember, wasn’t one of the big climate change reasons for Neanderthal dying out their large, broad noses? They were great for humidifying cold, dry air but basically became culture/petri dishes once the climate warmed again.

    We’ve seen in the past how deadly sinus and dental infections can be and if that is combined with a metabolism that required higher protein or calories to keep a core temperature as compared to modern humans that would add to their burden as well. Very little large game left due to climate changes, plus a higher energy requirement doesn’t bode well for survival especially if you’re competing against a smaller more energy efficient version.

    It would be similar to having 20 litres of gas/petrol to share between a Hummer and a Prius, I think we know who would make it further with less problems.

  8. ImYeti responds:

    Well, I don’t know if I would call him a Hobbit. But he sure does have a Hobbit sized penis….

  9. Red Earth White Lies responds:

    LOL
    That illustration looks absurdly ape-like for something some want to classify as Homo alive 17K ago, when vast underwater Megalithic-Bronze Age ruins are found offshore under several hundred feet of water Worldwide from the close of the Ice Age some date to plus or minus 10K (presumably Homo).

    Pfffft

    Anyhow Scientist Bernard Heveulmans in On The Track of Unknown Animals (1950s) discussed the “Little People” of the South Pacific/Greater Indonesian area generations ago.

    It is long overdue for Establishment Scientism to get their butt into gear.

  10. Grasshopper responds:

    I knew it! I HAVE dated a few neanderthals……..

  11. AreWeThereYeti responds:

    @ flame821 re:

    “It would be similar to having 20 litres of gas/petrol to share between a Hummer and a Prius, I think we know who would make it further with less problems.”

    I assume you mean it would be the Hummer – IF we were talking about off-road travel – right? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. ;)

    BTW, I drive a Jeep…

  12. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- Right.

    I always find it interesting when people cling to that outdated definition of what a species is. Heck, there are examples of cross- genera breeding. The definition of species is highly malleable and changing all of the time, which actually makes it a headache for “splitters” like myself who like to categorize organisms into pat, basically human-constructed concepts like “species.”

    There was probably a good deal of hominid interbreeding going on throughout natural history and this has a lot of interesting implications for cryptozoology.

    paul-r- The discovery of Homo floresiensis has all kinds of interesting implications for hominology above and beyond just the Orang Pendek. If the ancestors of these creatures were able to expand their range to the degree that I think they may have, then it could hold the answers to a variety of mystery hominids reported throughout Oceania and the Pacific from Australia, to Fiji to Japan.

    Interesting stuff.

  13. flame821 responds:

    @ arewethereyeti

    I knew as soon as I typed that someone would respond with off road comments :-p

    Mystery_man
    Just out of curiosity (I am assuming you are still in Japan) have they narrowed down where the Ainu originated? Last I heard the favoured theory was a large Russian settlement near the Sea of Okhotsk that was cut off from the rest of their people and slowly mingled with Emishi rebels back in the 7th century, giving them their current looks. Is that still the case or has more studying been done? Do they still worship and sacrifice bears?

    I’m curious because if a Russian colony could effectively managed to travel and flourish under such conditions, bringing large portions of their culture with them, it wouldn’t be such a stretch to think that other social primates manage the same trick.

    @ all
    I hope some grad students go through the bones of the hominids stored in museums very carefully, they’ve already found quite a few fossils that had been misidentified due to lack of knowledge at that time. We keep discovering new evidence that makes the old obsolete but so few people seem to have the time or chance to go over things that have already been cataloged to double check the bones against our new knowledge.

  14. red_pill_junkie responds:

    Neanderthals’ bad rap as mindless brutes is slowly but surely eroding.

    Like this recent news that they were in fact ancient mariners.

    And, since I’m a geek, I can’t help but wondering if our own successors are actually living among us right now.

  15. flame821 responds:

    @red_pill_junkie

    Homo sapien superior for the win

    Yes, apparently we’re all science nerds, fact geeks or conspiratorialists (sp?) here. LOL.

  16. fooks responds:

    still have no idea what they look like.

    just bones. size is about it.

    hair? who knows. what color, how much?



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