Wednesday, October 27, 2004

we hear many Tales of Gnomes, Elves, smaller folk

illustration byNational Geographic

Mason & Dixon, p. 740:
"Nothing to with your actual Appearance," Dixon said, "but all of thee have such a familiar look,-- up above, we hear many Tales of Gnomes, Elves, smaller folk, who live underground and possess what are, to huz, magickal Powers? Who'v min'd their way to the borders of our world, following streams, spying upon us from the Fells when the light of Day's tricky enough.... Is this where they come from, then?"

"They are we."

Once upon a time, but not so long ago, on a tropical island midway between Asia and Australia, there lived a race of little people, whose adults stood just three and a half feet high. 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.

Strangest of all, this is no fable. Skeletons of these miniature people have been excavated from a limestone cave on Flores, an island 370 miles east of Bali, by a team of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists. Reporting their find in today's issue of Nature, they assign the people to a new human species, Homo floresiensis.

....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 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.

.... 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.

...from New Species Revealed: Tiny Cousins of Humans by Nicholas Wade, New York Times, 28 October 2004