There’s something about the island of Flores that makes humans and other animals small.
After discovering tiny human-like fossils in the Liang Bua Cave cave on Flores in 2003, we unearthed a completely new human ancestor – Homo Florensis. Due to the tiny stature of these ancestors, they became internationally known as the “Hobbit Humans”.
The crazy thing is, the dwarfism doesn’t end with Homo Florensis. In the villages around the cave the remains were found like Rasspanna Village, the average adult is 4.9 feet (1.49m).
It’s not just people either. A now extinct species of elephant was found on the island that would have been as tall as a human shoulder.
Scientists wanted to find out if there was a link between the dwarfism so prevalent on the island, and discover what makes Flores such a hub for Dwarfism.
Here are the important findings, questions, and unsolved mysteries from the study in the journal Science…
Because of Homo Sapien interbreeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans, all non-African humans today have at least 1% Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA.
They wanted to find out if the pygmies of Flores interbred with Homo Florensis, and is the reason why they are so small.
They found that the window of opportunity for interbreeding decreased when the fossils discovered were actually 60,000 years old. Homo sapiens (modern humans) only arrived in Sumatra 73,000 – 63,000 years ago.
The study compared the DNA of 32 pygmy adults from Raspanna village.
It was found that the locals shared a similar amount of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA as much of South East Asians, but no signs of Homo Florensis DNA.
This was despite sharing a lack of height, in the exact area Homo Florensis lived.
So why so small?
Interestingly, twice within the last 70,000 years, humans and other animals migrated to Flores. And twice their descendants decreased in height.
Somehow, Flores made them small.
The famous dwarf elephant – a relative of other elephants in SEA – weighed only 300kg. That’s 1/18th the weight of its relatives.
It was found that Raspanna villagers carry variants of genes that restrict height.
It is thought that this was a desirable trait that emerged through natural selection due to a diet necessary for island living with minimal food.
Less food means it’s better to have smaller bodies to feed.
Interestingly, this dwarfism of usually larger mammals was coupled with unusually large rats, birds, and reptiles.
Though the jury is still out.
Inexplicably, Flores has a hyper form of this Island Dwarfism compared to anywhere else on earth.
Co-author of the study Richard E. Green of the University of California says in the New Straits Times:
“Whatever the ecological factors are for island dwarfism are, they are present in spades on this island. That’s what makes it so fascinating.”
The findings have prompted further interest and desire to study the phenomena of Dwarfism on Flores.
While mystery and intrigue still surround the Dwarfism of Flores – and the full answers currently escape scientists – one thing is for sure:
The unrevealed discoveries and implications are by no means small.