At the New Year, I visited Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge, where the anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey discovered the remains of our earliest hominid ancestors. It was the greatest archeologic find of the century.
Now we have another astonishing discovery: scientists have just found a new human species. A dwarf with a brain the size of a small grapefruit was found in a tropical lost world. In a cave, on the remote equatorial, Indonesian island of Flores (east of Java and northwest of Australia), they found a three-foot-tall adult female skeleton, estimated to be 18,000 years old.
This finding smashes the long-cherished belief that our species, Homo sapiens, crowded out other upright walking human cousins beginning 160,000 years ago. It turns out that we have not had the earth to ourselves for all these tens of thousands of years. Scientists have named the extinct species, Homo Floresiensis, or Flores Man.
Scientists are not even sure it belongs in the genus Homo Sapiens. Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh says, “I’m not sure how to classify it. We have to rethink what human is.” This is a fundamentally new creature and “the most extreme figure” to be included in the human family.
These pygmy creatures with small brains bore more of a resemblance to fictional barefooted hobbits than to modern humans. Millennia ago, there was a real-life Middle Earth, inhabited by a menagerie of fantastical creatures like giant tortoises, elephants as small as ponies, rats as big as hunting dogs, and giant Komodo dragons.
I must say, I like the idea that we could be descendants of Bilbo Baggins and Smeagle. Mostly, it comforts me to know that if we are directly related to dwarfs with midget-sized brains, it explains the stupidity of some of our leaders as the simple inability to escape our genetic ancestry.