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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Little People of Sumatra

Richard Freeman sent me this email on Wednesday morning:

Hi Dale
As promised i asked about races of tiny people in Sumatra. They are thought of as totally distinc from orang-pendek and are know as orang-kardil (small person as apposed to short person).They are said to be three feet tall, hairless except for the head which has long hair and clearly human. They go naked and hunt with spears of bamboo that have poisoned tips. They are infamous for stealing food.
In 1981 the late father of our guide Sahar Dimus was carrying supplies of rice deep in the jungle five days track from Polompek. He was a trader who swaped rice of coffee and other goods. He was with a friend at the time. The area was beyon the Bentang Asa river and in a valley behind the Bukit Candi Alus mountain in what is now Kerinci National Park. One of the orang-kardil snuck into the camp and was stealing rice. Sahar's father's friend killed the tiny person with a parang. In retaliation a number of orang-kardil speared the man to death.
Sahar knows of no recent sightings but as the park is the size of a small country and allmost no one goes deep into it any more who knows if they are still there?
They sound a little like Ebu Ggo and the Guyana 'bushmen'
All the best Richard

Now of course the real reason why I have tried to be so very precise about the human-like as opposed to the apelike sightings commonly alotted to the Orang Pendek is of course the fact that we have some very good fossils of some very little people that formerly inhabited Indonesia, and these fossils are tenatively classified as Homo floresensis. On the island of Flores (Which is off the far end of Java by Sumatra's perspective) there is also the story of the Ebu Gugo, little hairy men that ate anything and were considered a pest until the ancestors of the current Islanders herded them into a cave and lit fires in front, choking them all to death with the smoke. This is the same story told of the Nittaweo in Ceylon and is widespread as Folklore otherwise: the same story is repeated in Alaska and in Patagonia in Southern South America.
The press has taken to calling the small fossil men "Hobbits" after the Little People in J.R.R. Tolkien stories. Tolkien was of course only modifying traditional material for his own usage: Traditionally a Hob is something like a Brownie, only if you should offend one of them,  they become obnoxious and vengeful, and at that time they are spoken of as "Hob-goblins"(Basically the main difference between helpful Brownies and harmful Goblins is the way they behave toward the witness-otherwise, they generally are described in similar terms physically, such as in our ongoing discussions about "Imps" or the Hairy Pygmies of Europe. The common Celtic exact-equivalent for "Goblin" was "Bogle", related to "Bogey" and the common modern descendant used in Apallachia is "Booger")

Female Homo habilis Skull from Kenya, Bone Clones.

Here is a nice summary about the Flores Hobbit problem from The Strange World of Mystery site:

Hobbits from Indonesian island of Flores  

Posted by crkota in

Six years after their discovery, the extinct little people nicknamed hobbits who once occupied the Indonesian island of Flores remain mystifying anomalies in human evolution, out of place in time and geography, their ancestry unknown. Recent research has only widened their challenge to conventional thinking about the origins, transformations and migrations of the early human family.

Indeed, the more scientists study the specimens and their implications, the more they are drawn to heretical speculation.

¶Were these primitive survivors of even earlier hominid migrations out of Africa, before Homo erectus migrated about 1.8 million years ago? Could some of the earliest African toolmakers, around 2.5 million years ago, have made their way across Asia?

¶Did some of these migrants evolve into new species in Asia, which moved back to Africa? Two-way traffic is not unheard of in other mammals.

¶Or could the hobbits be an example of reverse evolution? That would seem even more bizarre; there are no known cases in primate evolution of a wholesale reversion to some ancestor in its lineage.

The possibilities get curiouser and curiouser, said William L. Jungers of Stony Brook University, making hobbits “the black swan of paleontology — totally unpredicted and inexplicable.”

Everything about them seems incredible. They were very small, not much more than three feet tall, yet do not resemble any modern pygmies. They walked upright on short legs, but might have had a peculiar gait obviating long-distance running. The single skull that has been found is no bigger than a grapefruit, suggesting a brain less than one-third the size of a human’s, yet they made stone tools similar to those produced by other hominids with larger brains. They appeared to live isolated on an island as recently as 17,000 years ago, well after humans had made it to Australia.

Although the immediate ancestor of modern humans, Homo erectus, lived in Asia and the islands for hundreds of thousands of years, the hobbits were not simply scaled-down erectus. In fact, erectus and Homo sapiens appear to be more closely related to each other than either is to the hobbit, scientists have determined.

It is no wonder, then, that the announcement describing the skull and the several skeletons as remains of a previously unknown hominid species, Homo floresiensis, prompted heated debate. Critics contended that these were merely modern human dwarfs afflicted with genetic or pathological disorders.

Scientists who reviewed hobbit research at a symposium here last week said that a consensus had emerged among experts in support of the initial interpretation that H. floresiensis is a distinct hominid species much more primitive than H. sapiens. On display for the first time at the meeting was a cast of the skull and bones of a H. floresiensis, probably an adult female.

Several researchers showed images of hobbit brain casts in comparison with those of deformed human brains. They said this refuted what they called the “sick hobbit hypothesis.” They also reported telling shoulder and wrist differences between humans and the island inhabitants.

Even so, skeptics have not capitulated. They note that most of the participants at the symposium had worked closely with the Australian and Indonesian scientists who made the discovery in 2003 and complain that their objections have been largely ignored by the news media and organizations financing research on the hobbits.

Some prominent paleoanthropologists are reserving judgment, among them Richard Leakey, the noted hominid fossil hunter who is chairman of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University. Like other undecided scientists, he cited the need to find more skeletons at other sites, especially a few more skulls.

Mr. Leakey conceded, however, that the recent research “greatly strengthened the possibility” that the Flores specimens represented a new species.

At the symposium, Michael J. Morwood, an archaeologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia who was one of the discoverers, said that further investigations of stone tools had determined that hominids arrived at Flores as early as 880,000 years ago and “it is reasonable to assume that those were ancestors of the hobbits.” But none of their bones have been uncovered, so they remain unidentified, and no modern human remains have been found there earlier than 11,000 years ago.

Excavations are continuing at Liang Bua, a wide-mouth cave in a hillside where the hobbit bones were found in deep sediments, but no more skulls or skeletons have turned up. Dr. Morwood said the search would be extended to other Flores sites and nearby islands.

Peter Brown, a paleontologist at the University of New England in Australia, said that his examination of the premolars and lower jaws of the specimens made it almost immediately “very, very clear that this was a hominid in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The first premolars in particular, he said, were larger than a human’s and had a crown and roots unlike those of H. sapiens or H. erectus.

Dr. Brown, a co-author of the original discovery report, said that no known disease or abnormality in humans could have “replicated this condition.”

At first, Dr. Brown and colleagues hypothesized that the hobbits were descendants of H. erectus that populated the region and had evolved their small stature because they lived in isolation on an island. Island dwarfing is a recognized phenomenon in which larger species diminish in size over time in response to limited resources.

The scientists soon backed off from that hypothesis. For one thing, dwarfing reduces stature, but not brain size. Moreover, researchers said, the hobbit bore little resemblance to an erectus.

In an analysis of the hobbit’s wrist bones, Matthew W. Tocheri of the Smithsonian Institution found that certain bones were wedge-shaped, similar to those in apes, and not squared-off, as in humans and Neanderthals. This suggested that its species diverged from the human lineage at least one million to two million years ago.

So if several lines of evidence now encourage agreement that H. floresiensis was a distinct and primitive hominid, the hobbit riddle can be compressed into a single question of far-reaching importance: where did these little people come from?

“Once you establish that this is a unique species,” said Frederick E. Grine, a paleoanthropologist at Stony Brook, “then these primitive features that it has suddenly take on a profound evolutionary significance.”

Scientists said in reports and interviews that they had only recently begun contemplating possible ancestries.

As a starting point, scientists rule out island dwarfing as a primary explanation. Dwarfs and pygmies are simply diminutive humans; they do not become more apelike, as the hobbits appear to be in some aspects. Besides, normal dwarfing would suggest that the hobbits presumably evolved from H. erectus, the only previous hominids identified in this part of Asia or anywhere outside Africa; the first one was discovered in Java in the late 19th century. But research has found few similarities between the hobbit skeleton and Asian H. erectus.

If the hobbit is a throwback to much earlier hominids, scientists said, reverse evolution would be the most far-fetched explanation. Dr. Jungers, a paleoanthropologist who organized the symposium, said there were no known examples of mammals becoming significantly reduced in size and anatomy as a consequence of reverting to an ancestral form.

“Is it possible?” he asked rhetorically. “If that is the case, it is unprecedented and a tremendous discovery.”

Several scientists think the answer to hobbit ancestry lies deeper in the hominid past. If this species is unlike H. erectus, it presumably descended from even earlier small-bodied migrants out of Africa that preceded erectus into Asia. Just the thought questions conventional wisdom.

Possible candidates include Homo habilis, the first and least known species of the Homo genus. The short, small-brained habilis might have emerged as early as 2.3 million years ago and lived to co-exist with the brainier, long-limbed H. erectus. At present, erectus fossils, found in the republic of Georgia and dated at 1.8 million to 1.7 million years ago, are the earliest well-established evidence for hominids outside Africa.

If hobbits resemble habilis in some respects, scientists said, it indicates that habilis or something like it possibly left Africa earlier and became the likely hobbit ancestor.

Another possible ancestor might even have been a pre-Homo species of the Australopithecus genus. The first evidence for stone toolmaking in Africa, at least 2.5 million years ago, is associated with australopithecines. Several scientists called attention to skeletal similarities between hobbits and A. afarensis, the species famously represented by the 3.2-million-year-old Lucy skeleton from Ethiopia.

The suggestion that the H. floresiensis ancestor might have reached Asia a million years before H. erectus left Africa was raised earlier this month at a meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

And then there is the idea, raised again at the symposium, of hominid migrations out of Africa and back. Dr. Jungers advised abandoning the old image of the long-limbed H. erectus striding out of Africa in the first wave of hominids making their way in the world.

“Why think they couldn’t have done it many times, even before erectus?” he said. “Other mammals have migrated in and out of Africa.”

The idea revived speculation that erectus itself might have evolved in Asia from an earlier migrant from Africa, and then found its way back to the land of its ancestors. Similarly, other hominids arriving in distant parts of Asia might have churned out new species, among them the hobbits.

Robert B. Eckhardt of Penn State University, an ardent hobbit skeptic, is unyielding in his opposition to the interpretation that the Flores skull belongs to a previously unrecognized species. He insists that it will prove to be from a modern human stricken with microcephaly or a similar developmental disorder that shrinks the head and brain.

“Convincing others is much more difficult than I thought it would be at the outset,” Dr. Eckhardt acknowledged in an e-mail message, “but increasingly it is becoming evident that what is at stake is not just some sample of specimens, but instead the central paradigm of an entire subfield.”

Susan G. Larson, an anatomist at the Stony Brook School of Medicine who analyzed the non-human properties of the hobbit shoulders, said in an interview that the investigations had entered “a period of wait and see.”

“Someday,” Dr. Larson said, “people may be saying, why was everyone so puzzled back then — it’s plain to see where the little people of Flores came from.”
Here is another interesting news item regarding the ecology of these "Hobbits"

Article: "Giant Storks May Have Fed on Real-Life Hobbits"
[It turns out that the same island where tiny humans lived, there were the local-version of the "Demon Ducks of Doom"living nearby and they were big enough to have eaten the little people. This sounds oddly like the Classical stories of the Pygmies and the Cranes but I do not know how there could be any direct connection. Perhaps such big storks may also have lived in Africa until recently]

Hobbits, a Million-Year History on Island  

Posted by crkota in

Lord of the Rings

Newfound stone tools suggest the evolutionary history of the "hobbits" on the Indonesian island of Flores stretches back a million years, a new study says—200,000 years longer than previously thought.

The hobbit mystery was sparked by the 2004 discovery of bones on Flores that belonged to a three-foot-tall (one-meter-tall), 55-pound (25-kilogram) female with a grapefruit-size brain.

The tiny, hobbit-like creature—controversially dubbed a new human species, Homo floresiensis—persisted on the remote island until about 18,000 years ago, even as "modern" humans spread around the world, experts say.

Very Old Tiny Stone Tools

Found in million-year-old volcanic sediments, the newly discovered tools are "simple sharp-edged flakes" like those found at nearby sites on Flores—sites dated to later time periods but also associated with hobbits and their ancestors—said study co-leader Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia, via e-mail.

The finding implies that a culture of stone tool wielding ancient humans, with origins in Africa, survived on the island for much longer than previously believed, according to the new research, published online today by the journal Nature.

"That's exciting," because it suggests that by a million years ago, early humans had covered more ground on their exodus from Africa than previously thought, said paleontologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum of London, who wasn't involved in the new study.

Hobbit Ancestors off the Hook?

Hobbit Reconstruction

The stone-and-bone record had suggested that the hobbits' ancestors—perhaps upright-walking-but-small-brained Homo erectus—left Africa about 1.5 million years ago and reached Flores by 880,000 years ago.

Once there, it's been thought, the hobbit ancestors quickly hunted a pygmy elephant species and a giant tortoise species to extinction.

The date of the newly discovered stone tools, though, suggests elephant and tortoise died off a hundred thousand years after Flores's colonization —indicating that the early Flores colonizers' role in the extinction "must have been minimal," study co-leader Brumm said.

What's more, these early colonizers could have been more primitive than H. erectus—"that is our working hypothesis," he added.

When the bones of the hobbit were first reported in 2004, the discovery team suggested they belonged to a unique species, Homo floresiensis, that had descended from Homo erectus.

Since then, scientists studying the hobbit bones have found features in the wrist, feet, skull, jaw, brain, and shoulders that suggest the little creature descended from something more primitive.

"I think that's looking increasingly likely from its anatomy," said the Natural History Museum's Stringer.

Hobbit Findings Questioned

Not everyone is ready to accept the new date.

"I have no problem with hominins"—human ancestors—"being on Flores at 1.2 million years ago," anthropologist James Phillips said. "After all, they were on Java by around 750,000 [years ago]."
But the fact that the implements were found in million-year-old volcanic sediments doesn't guarantee the artifacts are a million years old, said Phillips, an emeritus professor with the University of Illinois at Chicago, said via email.

"There are many ways"—such as water-driven processes—"in which artifacts can move through sediments," Phillips said.

He's also dismayed that the new study assumes that stone-tool technology changed little on Flores for more than a million years.

"Everywhere else on Earth, change was slow but always—and I emphasize always—occurred."

Controversy is nothing new in hobbit science, with many experts still at odds over whether Homo floresiensis is a separate species at all.

HobbitHomes from Movie

Several scientists have argued, for example, that the hobbits were modern humans with a genetic condition that causes dwarfing and other defects.

Hobbit Ancestors Rafted to Flores?

Regardless of what they were and when they arrived, the question remains: How did primitive humans get to Flores in the first place?

The Natural History Museum's Stringer buys into a theory that they may have migrated from Africa, perhaps on foot, to the island of Sulawesi (map). There, the ancient humans may have been washed to sea by a tsunami—currents off Sulawesi flow southward, toward Flores.

"These creatures most likely got moved on rafts of vegetation," he said.

To help shore up this theory, the team behind the original hobbit discovery is currently looking for evidence on Sulawesi that would prove humans occupied the island even earlier than they did Flores.
[Borneo or Java are more likely routes for colonists to Flores than Sulawesi would be-DD]
It is my opinion that the anatomical features of thes "Hobbit" fossils are most like very old Homo erectus and also Homo habilis fossils, and calling especial attention to the shape of the teeth and jaws. The size of the feet is not especially large proportionately and some modern human beings have large feet in proportion to short legs: indeed, taller humans with more elongated legs automatically tend to have smaller feet in relation to the length of their legs or to their full height, while the reverse holds true for such people as live in the mountains and tend to have shorter legs proportionately as well as tending to be shorter overall. If you measure taller populations as the norm, then the shorter people look like they have comically large feet. This is an artifact of the sampling being used and taller populations are not the norm, they are only one varuation. Hobbit feet are more similar to modern humans than they are to Australopithecines anatomically, but I  would be the first to agree that some features of the skull and skeleton are more like the Australopithecines and H. habilis than they are like H. erectus and H. sapiens. However,some H. erectus specimens are more like H. habilis and you can have populations with both "primitive" and "advanced" variations within the same species H. erectus (eg, the recent finds in Georgia). For that reason I was willing to say that a population including a modern-and-primitive mosaic of features could still be H. erectus and still be the ancestors of the purported species H. floresensis. In which case it was not likely to be a separate species. There is the separate issue of whether H. erectus can be considered sunk into H. sapiens as some of the more avant-garde theorists wuld have it. There are microcephalic H. sapiens that have brains as small as any H. erectus specimens. However, this still draws a line at the chimpsized brain of H. floresensis: that is half the size of the smallest known diseased sapiens cranial capacity and it simply could not be a diseased type of ordinary H. sapiens. If however H. floresensis is considered a substandard variant of H. habilis, there is no reason why an Australopithecine-sized brain could not occur as the low end of the variation in cranial capacity where the top end of the variation could be perhaps twice that size.

Homo habilis Female Reconstruction

Evolution in brain size. The cranial capacities for Australopithecines
and H. habilis changed hardly at all over time but Homo erectus started out
 in the H. habilis range and ended up in the low-end of H. sapiens cranial
capacity. The chart is somewhat of a cheat in that it does not show the size
of (abnormal) microcephalic H. sapiens skulls, which also can be as small
 as 600-700 cubic centimeters, in the H. habilis or low-end-erectus range.

Homo erectus Reconstruction

Here is a tutoral page on H. habilis which should make some of this material more familiar to the uninformed:
Early Transitional Humans

Humans are members of the genus Homo click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced.  Modern people are Homo sapiens click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced.  However, we are not the only species of humans who have ever lived.  There were earlier species of our genus that are now extinct.  In the past, it was incorrectly assumed that human evolution was a relatively straightforward sequence of one species evolving into another.  We now understand that there were times when several species of humans and even other hominins were alive.  This complex pattern of evolution emerging from the fossil record has been aptly described as a luxuriantly branching bush on which all but one twig has died off.  Modern humans are that last living twig.
The striking similarities in appearance between the human genus Homo and our distant ancestors, the genus Australopithecus click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced, is sufficient reason to place us both into the same biological tribe (Hominini click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced).  Both genera are bipedal and habitually upright in posture.  Humans have been somewhat more efficient at this mode of locomotion.  Like gracile australopithecines click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced, early humans were light in frame and relatively short.  They were only about 3 ft. 4 in. to 4 ft. 5 in. tall (100-235 cm) and weighed around 70 pounds (32 kg)  The evolution of larger bodies occurred later in human evolution. [And within the robust Australopithecines, not thought to be in the direct line of ancestry to humans-DD] The differences between australopithecines and early humans are most noticeable in the head.  Humans developed significantly larger brains and relatively smaller faces with progressively smaller teeth and jaws.  In addition, humans became ever more proficient in developing cultural technologies to aid in their survival, while the australopithecines did not.

photo of a late gracile australopithecine skull (side view)photo of an early human skull (side view)
Late gracile
Early transitional
The immediate ancestors of early humans were most likely late gracile australopithecines.  At present, the leading contender for that ancestral species is Australopithecus garhi click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced or possibly Australopithecus africanus. click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced
There may have been one or possibly two species of the first humans living in East Africa--Homo rudolfensis click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced and Homo habilis click this icon to hear the preceding term pronounced (literally "able or skilled human").  The few rudolfensis fossils that have been found are somewhat earlier, dating about 2.4-1.6 million years ago, while the more common habilis remains are around 1.9-1.4 million years old.  Rudolfensis apparently was a bit taller and relatively larger brained on average.  However, many paleoanthropologists consider the differences to be too slight to warrant a separate species designation.  Some have suggested that rudolfensis were males and habilis were females.  As a result, they classify them both as a single species--Homo habilis.  That is the approach taken in this tutorial.
The evolution of the genus Homo and the robust australopithecines beginning around 2.5 million years ago coincides with the beginning of a period of prolonged climate instability in Africa.  The overall trend was towards cooling and drying, but along the way there were considerable climate fluctuations.  It is likely that selection for the ability to adapt to these environmental changes resulted in the emergence of humans with their larger, more capable brains.
photo of a Homo habilis skull (side view)photo of a Homo habilis skull (front view)
       Homo habilis
Early transitional human fossils were first discovered in 1960 by Louis and Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.  The Leakeys named them Homo habilis (Latin for "handy or skilled human") because they apparently made stone tools.  Similar fossils were found at East Lake Turkana in Kenya by Richard Leakey's team of fieldworkers that began searching there in 1969.  These latter specimens were named Homo rudolfensis after Lake Rudolf (i.e., the former name for Lake Turkana).
map of the likely Homo habilis geographic range
So far, conclusive evidence of Homo habilis has been found only in the Great Rift Valley system of East Africa.  However, their ultimate geographic and time ranges may have been somewhat larger.  Early transitional human fossils also have been found in South Africa in the caves at Sterkfontein and Swartkrans in apparent association with australopithecines.  However, not all paleoanthropologists agree that these fossils should be considered Homo habilis
Early transitional humans had brains that on average were about 35% larger than those of Australopithecus africanus.  In fact, it is beginning with Homo habilis that our ancestors finally had brains that were consistently bigger than those of the great apes.  Ajit Varki and his team of geneticists at the University of California San Diego campus have discovered a small genetic difference between humans and apes that may account for the progressive increase in the size of human brains.  People, but not apes, have a gene that stops the production of N-glycolylneuramine acid.  Using "molecular clock analysis," the U.C.S.D. researchers determined that this gene entered the human evolutionary line as a result of a mutation 2.7 million years ago.  While it is presumed that the australopithecines lacked this gene, there is no direct evidence.
Adult cranial capacity(range in cm3)

early transitional humans 509-752
modern humans900-1880
photo of a reconstruction of the Homo habilis appearance
Reconstruction of Homo habilis
As the early human cranium, or brain case, began to enlarge in response to increased brain size, the mouth became smaller.  In comparison to the australopithecines, the early humans had smaller teeth, especially the molars and premolars.  This suggests that they mostly ate softer foods.  An analysis of the wear patterns on their teeth indicates that they had diverse diets that included a wide range of plants and meat.  As noted previously, the body size of Homo habilis was not significantly larger than the early hominins that preceded them.  Likewise, the arms of habilis and their australopithecine ancestors were relatively long compared to ours.  The modern human body size and limb proportions began to appear with the next species in our evolution--Homo erectus. 
illustration credits
 Of especial interest in considering the Flores "Hobbit" is the statement:

"Like gracile australopithecines , early humans were light in frame and relatively short.  They were only about 3 ft. 4 in. to 4 ft. 5 in. tall (100-235 cm) and weighed around 70 pounds (32 kg) [say 40 to 90 pounds]"

This is all very interesting but basically not very meaningful in relationship to the Orang Pendek when that form was said to have an opposed big toe like an ape. If on the other hand, there still is a cryptid -hominid on Sumatra, it could be related to the H. floresensis IF that one is a separate species. it could also possibly be related to other reports of similar creatures reported from Southeast Asia to Australia. There are several "IF" factors in that construction that still are not determined yet and most importantly among those, we do not know if the "Small people" are the same as the "Hobbit" and there still is that annoying problem that we still have not settled how to classify H. floresensis.

But whatever happens to come of this, the floresensis types would not be the type of creatures that walk on feet with opposed big toes. And evidence for the one thing does not constitute evidence for the other, as some well-meaning but thoroughly confused Cryptozoologists have stated in the past.

-Best Wishes, Dale D.