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Soggy dwarf bones

An Indonesian island reveals the existence of an extinct group of pygmy humans

by , Australia

For updates on this fascinating find, please see Hobbling the Hobbit?, posted 8 November 2004, Hobbit bone wars, posted 28 February 2005, and It’s getting “hobbit”-forming, posted May 5, 2005.

28 October 2004

Homo floresiensis. That’s the scientific name given to skeletal remains just discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores.1 The name implies that they belong to a different species from people living today, Homo sapiens.

The researchers found the skull and part of the rest of the skeleton of what might be a female, plus bones and teeth from at least seven other individuals. From preliminary reports, this relative of ours (a term used in some of the articles on the find) was only about one metre (3’4”) tall!

There is every reason to believe that assigning a separate species name is not justified at all. These remains, despite their smallness, give every indication of humanity. The site gives evidence of the controlled use of fire, and shows that they made sophisticated stone tools. There is evidence that they hunted the pygmy elephants on the same island. And of course, the question arises of how they reached the island. It would suggest that these people or their ancestors had substantial seafaring skills.

Interestingly, the bones, found in a cave, were apparently not fossilized (mineralized), and due to the damp climate had the consistency of ‘wet blotting paper’. One would think that given this, long-agers would themselves get a bit wary about the ages assigned to them. (The youngest ‘date’ for the bones themselves is said to be 18,000 years, ranging to more than 38,000, though stone tools have been ‘dated’ such as to indicate that the date of occupation of their settlement ranged back to 800,000 years ago).

The remains have many features strikingly similar to Homo erectus, which we have also long maintained is really just a variety of Homo sapiens. The researchers who discovered the Flores bones apparently think that they are dwarfed descendants of Homo erectus. We would agree.

‘Progressive creationists’ who follow the teachings of Hugh Ross would seem to be in a dilemma. If they admit that these individuals were humans, i.e., descendants of Adam, they would have to reject the hundreds of thousands of years in the above datings of tools. They have shown themselves unwilling to accept the humanity of Homo erectus (see Skull wars: new ‘Homo erectus’ skull in Ethiopia and the response to a critic), presumably because the whole reason for long-age ‘reinterpretations’ of the Bible depends upon the supposed validity of secular dating methods. And having rejected erectus as human, it might be embarrassing to hold a contrary position on such miniature versions of erectus.

If, however, these specimens are to be written off in the usual Rossist approach as ‘soulless non-humans that look a bit like humans’, it raises the awkward question of non-humans doing all those things mentioned, that only humans do today.2 It seems much simpler and more consistent to accept that these were descendants of Adam, part of the post-Babel dispersion.

So how do they happen to be so diminutive? We have written much about natural selection and adaptation as non-evolutionary realities (see Q&A: Natural Selection). The same forces and genetic pressures can apply to human populations. Islands have long been known as places where special adaptive pressures are rife. For example, the loss of wings in birds and beetles, detrimental elsewhere, becomes an advantage on a small windswept island where to fly means risking being blown out to sea (see Beetle bloopers: Even a defect can be an advantage sometimes).

There are also many instances of mammals becoming a dwarf or pygmy variety on islands. A classic example is the 1-metre high fossil elephants on Sicily and Malta—and indeed, the pygmy elephants these dwarf humans hunted! These may well have arisen because places with limited resources favour the transmission of already-existing genes which consume less of those resources—e.g., the genes for ‘smallness’.

Even a mutational stunting, like some hereditary instances of dwarfism today, might be favoured in such a situation and come to dominate a population. Such losses of information, and genetic shifts based on existing genes, are of course not evidence for ‘goo-to-you’ evolution, which relies on the continual appearance of creative genetic novelty. Stunting of humans, and shuffling/culling groups of genes by selection, gives no evidence of such a process.

Small brains, big achievements

The brain of ‘Flores Man’ (or should that be Flores Woman?) was significantly smaller than that of modern humans, even when their body size is taken into account. But interestingly, some of the tools appear to be so sophisticated that even some evolutionists are speculating that perhaps modern humans ‘dropped in’ to the island and left them behind! It reminds us of the fact that brain size and intelligence do not correlate well. Less likely, but possible, is that the ancestors of Flores Man not only made the sea journey to this island, but made the more sophisticated tools, and generations later we are seeing their mutationally degenerate offspring.

Conclusion

In short, the discovery is exciting and interesting. Evolutionists are surprised and astonished by it. However, they will doubtless find ways to fit it into their ever-flexible evolutionary framework, even using it to reinforce evolutionary notions. The Flores discovery fits very nicely into a biblical view of history. But it seems somewhat awkward, to put it mildly, for those who attempt to marry the millions of years and the Bible (see also Refuting Compromise ch. 9).3

Finally, the quite unfossilized, fragile condition of these bones should raise serious doubts in thoughtful people about the whole long-age framework. For more on this, see Q&A: Radiometric Dating and Q&A: Young Age Evidence.

For an update on this fascinating find, please see Hobbling the Hobbit?

Addendum

Some very short modern people:

According to the Guiness Book of Records website, the shortest-ever actress in a lead role was America’s Tamara de Treaux, who was 77 cm (2 ft 7 in) tall as an adult. Normally proportioned, she played ET in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster. The Filipino paratrooper and black-belt martial arts exponent Weng Wang, who also starred in films and performs all his own stunts, measures just 83 cm (2 ft 9 in) tall. The shortest married couple were the Brazilian pair Douglas da Silva and Claudia Rocha. When they married in 1998, they were 90 cm (35 in) and 93 cm (36 in) respectively.

NOTE: We are not suggesting that the anatomical features of the Flores woman were simply those of a (miniature) modern type human. They are those of a (miniature) Homo erectus, a variant of the modern type, but within the human kind (see also How different is the cranial-vault thickness of Homo erectus from modern man?). Like the evolutionist anthropologist Milford Wolpoff and his allies, who are also aware of the differences between H. erectus and H. sapiens, we are saying that Homo erectus (and thus also the Flores people) should really be classified as H. sapiens. The human kind/species had a greater range of variation than exhibited today.

References and notes

  1. Morwood, M.J., et al., Archaeology and age of a new hominin from Flores in eastern Indonesia, Nature 431:1087–1091, 28 October 2004. See also pp. 1029, 1043–44 and 1055–1061 same issue.
    Ancient, tiny humans shed new light on evolution, <www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4127713>, 28 October 2004.
    Associated Press, Scientists find prehistoric dwarf skeleton, 27 October 2004.
  2. Rossist views were similarly on the back foot with the discovery of undoubted Homo sapiens fossils that were ‘dated’—by methods Ross accepts!—to 160,000 years ago. See Ethiopian ‘earliest humans’ find: A severe blow to the beliefs of Hugh Ross and similar ‘progressive creationist’ compromise views.
  3. For a full discussion and a powerful refutation of ‘progressive creation’ and all other compromise views on Genesis, see Sarfati, J., Refuting compromise, Master Books, Arkansas, USA, 2004.

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