October 27, 2004

Human dwarf species uncovered

"It is arguably the most significant discovery concerning our own genus in my lifetime." -- Bernard Wood, George Washington University.

It now appears that the Neanderthals weren't the only human-like species to co-habit the planet with modern humans in recent evolutionary terms. In fact, a completely different hominid species survived longer than the Neanderthals did (they died out about 28,000 years ago).

Indeed, the discovery of a human dwarf species that lived as recently as 18,000 years ago on the island of Flores is a breathtaking discovery.

The species, named Homo floresiensis, lived marooned for eons on the island of Flores while Homo sapiens rapidly colonized the rest of the planet. Flores was a kind of tropical world populated by giant lizards and miniature elephants.

Homo floresiensis had a grapefruit-sized brain about one-quarter the size of the brain of modern man; it is closer in size with the brains of transitional prehuman species in Africa more than three million years ago. However, evidence suggests that Flores man made stone tools, lit fires and organized group hunts for meat.

It is uncertain if this species ever crossed paths with modern humans. And geologic evidence suggests a massive volcanic eruption sealed its fate 12,000 years ago, along with other unusual species on the island.

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