The miniature people found to have lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until 13,000 years ago may well appeal to the imagination. Even their Australian discoverers refer to them with fanciful names. But the little Floresians have created something of a headache for paleoanthropologists.
The Floresians, whose existence was reported late last month, have shaken up existing views of the human past for three reasons: they are so recent, so small and apparently so smart. None of these findings fits easily into current accounts of human evolution.
The textbooks describe an increase in human brain size that parallels an increasing sophistication in stone tools. Our close cousins the chimpanzees have brains one third the size of ours, as do the Australopithecines, the apelike human ancestors who evolved after the split from the joint human-chimp ancestor six or seven million years ago.
But the Australopithecines left no stone tools, and chimps, though they use natural stones to smash things, have no comprehension of fashioning a stone for a specific task.
The little Floresians seem to have made sophisticated stone tools yet did so with brains of 380 cubic centimeters, about the same size as the chimp and Australopithecine brains.
This is a thumb in the eye for the tidy textbook explanations that link sophisticated technology with increasing human brain size.
The Australian and Indonesian researchers who found the Floresian bones have an explanation that raises almost as many questions as it resolves. They say the Floresians, who stood three and a half feet high, are downsized versions of Homo erectus, the archaic humans who left Africa 1.5 million years before modern humans.
But some critics think the small people may have descended from modern humans - Homo sapiens.
Homo erectus had arrived on the remote island of Flores by 840,000 years ago, according to earlier findings by Dr. Mike Morwood, the Australian archaeologist on the team. The species then became subject to the strange evolutionary pressures that affect island species.
If there are no predators and little food, large animals are better off being small. Homo erectus was sharply downsized, as was the pygmy elephant the little Floresians hunted.
But the Morwood theory is not universally accepted. Homo erectus is known to have made crude stone tools but is not generally thought to have spoken or been able to build boats.
|What's that you say? Maybe they're exactly like us, only smaller? Brilliant!|
Maybe Dr. Morwood's alleged stone tools were just natural pieces of rock. "Many researchers (myself included) doubted these claims," writes Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, adding that "nothing could have prepared me" for the surprise of the little Floresians.
It is surprising enough that Homo erectus managed to reach Flores. But not only have the Floresians evolved to be much more advanced than their ancestors ever were, as judged by the stone tools, but they did so at the same time that their brain was being reduced to one-third human size. Getting smaller brained and smarter at the same time is the exact reverse of the textbook progression.
The Floresians' other surprise lies in the time of their flourishing. The skeleton described in Nature lived as recently as 18,000 years ago, but Dr. Morwood said that in the most recent digging season he found six other individuals whose dates range from 95,000 to 13,000 years ago.
Modern humans from Africa arrived in the Far East some time after 50,000 years ago and had reached Australia by at least 40,000 years ago. There has been little evidence until now that Homo erectus long survived its younger cousins' arrival in the region. Modern humans probably exterminated the world's other archaic humans, the Neanderthals in Europe.
Yet the little Floresians survived some 30,000 years into modern times, the only archaic human species known to have done so.
All these surprises raise an alternative explanation. What if the Floresians are descended from modern humans, not from Homo erectus?
By Mary Rettig November 5, 2004
(AgapePress) - The president of a creation apologetics group says the dwarf skeleton of a supposedly primitive man recently found on an island in Indonesia may confound evolutionists, but it is easy for creationists to explain.
Answers in Genesis founder Dr. Ken Ham says he is always amazed by the reactions of evolutionists whenever a new, so-called "humanoid" bone is found. Inevitably, he says, the evolution proponents say with the finding of a new fossil that creationists have lost their age-old argument with Darwinists.
|Ken Ham with Mintie. Not confounded.|
But Ham says this is not so. "The interesting thing is that, really, from a creationist perspective, we have no trouble at all explaining variation within human kind like this," he explains.
"I like to help people understand that by saying, 'Look -- eight people got off Noah's ark, and as they increased in number, and then you have the Tower of Babel, and you split up the human gene pool.'"
When this happens, the science expert continues, the result is "different combinations of genes moving in different directions. You can get certain features in a particular group that might be unique to that particular group." Thus, he concludes, are the so-called "evolutionary" differences in the features of human skeletons explained.
But Ham says evolutionists are even arguing among themselves about whether the Indonesian skeletal remains found are even really those of a human. Meanwhile, he says creationists understand that there are some differences between modern man and the ancient skeleton, and that this is just another example of God's creativity in designing people.
Also, Ham says the skeleton was found with stone tools, suggesting some intelligence. But evolutionists' dating methods have caused problems here as well. He says the evolution scientists claim the dates range "from 18,000 to 38,000 years, supposedly -- and of course that's assuming their dating methods are correct, which are all based on assumptions."
This creates a problem, the AIG spokesman says, "because then they dated the stone tools at 800,000 years. So they say maybe the tools were used by somebody else, and then these particular humans came later -- or something like that."
Ham says evolutionists simply do not know what to do with this conflicting information. But he says these die-hard Darwinists will fit all their contradictory conclusions into their faulty evolutionary framework anyway.
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