In 2004, scientists announced a new relative in our fragile family tree, a (all together now) “hobbit-like creature” known as home floresiensis. It was a small little creature, and there was some evidence that it existed, in the Indonesian jungle, as recently as 12,000 years ago, which would put it not just on the earth the same time as homo sapiens, but in the same era as modern man, as we were beginning to puzzle out farming and society, and creating the modern world.
Indeed, it was even more exciting. There were legends in Flores, where the hobbit was found, of a forest creature, ebu gogu. It’s a small creature, sometimes translated roughly as “grandmother” (not literally) or “creature who eats anything”. Older legend had it out there in the jungle primeval, scampering around, always a fleeting glimpse in the mist. It was probably a monkey, or just made up, a tale sifting through the years, but you didn’t have to be a romantic to make the connection. To imagine that not very long ago, one of our distant relatives was still roaming the vast forests, and that our direct and wholly recognizable ancestors would see them. Would they make eye contact? Would there be a dim recognition, a spark of connection? Would there be fear? Would there be hatred? The thought was absurd, but it was tantalizing. There was poetry, and even hope. We could coexist, even as we became dominant.
That didn’t happen. More studies show that floresiensis was wiped out 50,000 years ago, most likely due to man encroaching on its territory. And not the man that was figuring out writing and could recognize a species that was so close to us, even if just in our imagination. It was our species at its most basic, a constant fight for survival and resources. The hobbit was just another competitive ape.
The new understanding of the dates make a lot more coherent sense in terms of the evidence of what we know about modern human dispersal,” says Matthew Tocheri, an author of the study from Lakehead University, Ontario. Over the past 100,000 years, extinction events followed modern humans wherever they went, he said. “It is not always the case the humans are the sole factor,” he added. “But they are often in the right place at the right time to at least be a part of the reason.”
This isn’t to blame our ancestors. That’s what you had to do. It’s just interesting that for millions of years there were many species of humans, intermingling and competing, but having a rough balance. We won, and the rest are all gone.
This is not an incidental follow-up to the global warming post.