The giant stork that lived beside the little hobbit

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Science media have been picking up this story the last couple of days of the description of a giant stork fossil that was found on Flores, the home of our favourite hobbit Homo floresiensis. The fossils are described in a paper in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society; the giant stork is estimated to be 1.8 metres in height and are contemporaneous to H. floresiensis which gives us pause for thought – if storks could grow so drastically big in an island setting, why couldn’t have humans grown so drastically small?

Artist's impression from BBC

A new species of giant marabou stork (Aves: Ciconiiformes) from the Pleistocene of Liang Bua, Flores (Indonesia)
MEIJER, H. J. and DUE, R. A. (2010). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 160: 707–724. doi: 10.1111/j.1096-3642.2010.00616.x

Giant fossil bird found on ‘hobbit’ island of Flores
BBC, 07 December 2010
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More to be found in the Hobbit lands?

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06 May 2007 (The Age) – The real news of this story is that Dr. Morwood, from the team who discovered the hobbit hominid in Flores, is about to begin an archaeological investigation into the islands of Timor and Sulawesi, near Flores where our favourite controversial hobbit was found. This rest of the story, about finding the existence of other extinct animal and human species a la homo floresiensis is still entirely speculative.

From the hobbit team, more human relations

More bizarre, extinct human species — dwarfs and even giants — could be uncovered in Indonesia’s southern islands, with the Australian discoverer of the “hobbit” set to begin fresh diggings next month.

Mike Morwood — who with fellow Australian Peter Brown led the team that discovered the hobbit, Homo floresiensis, in 2003 — is predicting further species will be uncovered on the islands of Timor and Sulawesi, which are near Flores.

Professor Morwood, with a team headed by Indonesian archaeological professor Fachroel Aziz from Indonesia’s Geological Survey Institute, will soon start excavations in the Atambua Basin of Timor. Afterwards, the team will begin diggings in Sulawesi and will return to the Ling Bua cave in Flores, where the hobbit species was uncovered.

“We predict a number of these islands are probably going to have their own endemic human species, and many of them will be small,” Professor Morwood, from the University of Wollongong said.

Professor Morwood flagged that any new human species found on Timor and Sulawesi would be called Homo timoriensis and Homo celebesiensis (Celebes being the former name of Sulawesi).

He said these new species would have evolved separately on their respective islands for more than a million years. Although they could be similar is size, they would be different enough to warrant their own species name.

Professor Morwood said further archaeological finds would help answer the puzzling question of the ancestry of the hobbit, which could lead to a total redrawing of the human family tree. A popular explanation is that the hobbit — and any species that lived in Timor and Sulawesi — are descended from Homo erectus, which lived in Indonesia, notably Java, for thousands of years. But this was probably wrong, Professor Morwood said.

“Some of the traits of Homo floresiensis are so primitive — they’re more primitive than you find in Homo erectus. It seems likely that the ancestor was something before Homo erectus,” he said.

If true, this would revolutionise our understanding of human history because Homo erectus was believed to be the first early human that was advanced enough to leave Africa.


Related Books:
Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg
Human Origins : The Fossil Record by C. S. Larsen