The Early Days of a Better Nation

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Halflings

The discovery of another human species that may have lived as recently as 12 000 years ago is thrilling and delightful. It touches us in that part of of our minds where we fill the aching gap between us and the rest of nature with dwarfs and giants, elves and hobbits. Real little people! Three feet tall! Wow! It doesn't turn anthropology or the story of human evolution on its head, a piece of science-correspondent gabble I think I heard during my goggle-eyed, gobsmacked, yelping look at yesterday evening's TV news. The best guess at the moment is that the little people had larger ancestors. That an island population of Homo erectus should evolve to a small size is [or should have been] no great surprise. On islands, including Flores, dwarf forms of large animals and giant forms of small ones are common. But I know of not even a science-fictional speculation that it could somewhere have happened to humans. That a brain a quarter the size of ours could sustain human consciousness - tool-making, fire, probably language - certainly is food for thought, and should perhaps make us reconsider the capacities of our remoter relatives.

What's really wonderful is that another human species, so different from our own, should exist so recently. 12 000 years ago is like yesterday. We only just missed each other. At some ancient stratum of our minds, we miss them still. To hope that their living descendants may yet be found is probably forlorn, but only human.


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