Remains of a 3 1/2 tall archaic human species, Homo floresiensis, have been found on an island 370 miles east of Bali – the species may have survived into the 16th century:
- Despite their stature, they were mighty hunters. They made stone tools with which they speared giant rats, clubbed sleeping dragons and hunted the packs of pygmy elephants that roamed their lost world.
….The little Floresians lived on the island until at least 13,000 years ago, and possibly to historic times. But they were not a pygmy form of modern humans. They were a downsized version of Homo erectus, the eastern cousin of the Neanderthals of Europe, who disappeared 33,000 years ago. Their discovery means that archaic humans, who left Africa 1.5 million years earlier than modern people, survived far longer into recent times than was previously supposed.
The Indonesian island of Flores is very isolated and, before modern times, was inhabited only by a select group of animals that managed to reach it. These then became subject to unusual evolutionary forces that propelled some toward giantism and reduced the size of others.
….In a companion report Dr. Morwood, an archaeologist who is also at the University of New England, estimates that the skeleton is 18,000 years old. He has since found the remains of six more individuals in the cave, with dates ranging from 95,000 to 13,000 years ago, he said in an interview.
Also buried in the cave are a number of objects that illustrate how the little Floresians lived. There are bones of Komodo dragons, beasts 10 feet in length, and of an even larger lizard. The dragons can eat animals the size of deer, but being cold-blooded, they are sluggish at low temperatures and not so hard to kill. There are bones of the pygmy elephant, giant rat, fish and birds.
….”It’s a wonderful demonstration of apparently ‘archaic’ humans adapting to the special conditions on Flores,” Dr. Rightmire said. “I wouldn’t have supposed that such small-brained people descended directly from Homo erectus would be capable of producing these artifacts, but the evidence is pretty compelling.”
….The little Floresians not only survived long into the modern period but unlike most of the other archaic human populations managed to coexist with modern humans. They also demonstrate the adaptability of the human form and how readily humans conformed to the same pressures toward dwarfism that affected other island species.
….The Floresians of the Liang Bua region seem to have perished after an eruption from one of the island’s many volcanoes about 12,000 years ago. But they may have survived until much later elsewhere on Flores, Dr. Morwood believes. Among today’s Ngadha people of central Flores and the Manggarai of West Flores there are local stories of little people who lived in caves until the arrival of the Dutch traders in the 16th century. [NY Times]
I find it fascinating that these, literally, subhumans could have survived until the last 500 years or so. There is still so much we don’t know, and this discovery points out that legends and folklore about alternative forms of people may have basis in fact. Could any form of “archaic human” survive to this day?