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Not Your Father’s World History Part 2:
Does Flores Man still exist?

17 October 2005

Native American
Photo: Edward S. Curtis

Curious Article No. 11:

At 42,000 bp one group migrated from the Caspian south to the Nile Delta and then westward across northern Africa. By 40,000 bp the Asian group reached Japan, which was connected to the mainland at that time. (They weren't the first, though. At least another hominid, Homo erectus, preceded them by half a million years and built some of the earliest known dwellings there.) Between 40,000 and 25,000 one clan entered Britain, another reached the northern Russian coast on the Barents Sea, and a third moved eastward through Siberia and either across the Beringia land bridge by foot or along the various shorelines by boat into Alaska, bringing their dogs with them.

This latter group then split into two, one following the Alaskan Pacific coast southward and the other migrating east all the way to southwestern Pennsylvania. These earliest Paleo-Indians were probably very dark complected, resembling the Aboriginals of Australia and New Guinea. They found idyllic hunting in North America with giant peccaries, five species of horses, camelids, mammoths and mastodons, short-faced bears, bison and musk oxen, and several types of ground sloth which must have been particularly easy to catch.

By 27,000 bp both the Neanderthals and Homo erectus were gone. Maybe we persecuted them to extinction, or simply out-competed with them for resources. Disease is another possibility. So far it doesn't appear we practiced any significant intermarriage with either of these; although some suggest that red hair, which our species has only had for about 40,000 years, came from the Neanderthal gene pool.

There was a gigantic blast at 26,500 bp from the Oruanui/Taupo volcano on New Zealand’s then uninhabited North Island. It threw out 190 cubic miles (800 cubic km) of ejecta. Milder eruptions have occurred there more than twenty times since. One such event in 181 ce ranks among recorded history’s most violent. Its column rose 30 miles (50 km) high, ash and hot rubble raced across the landscape at up to 550 miles per hour (250 meters per second), and according to contemporary accounts skies turned red in China and as far away as Rome.

Between 20,000 and 19,000 bp another glacial maximum covered all the northern latitudes. This was the height of the last great Ice Age. Some of us survived in small pockets up there in northern China, Siberia and North America, which included a group west of the Great Lakes area and in Pennsylvania which was glacier-free. With so much water locked up in deep freeze, sea levels were about 400 feet (120 meters) lower than they are today. In eastern Africa Lake Victoria, and hence the Nile, ran completely dry at this time. As things started to thaw by 15,000 a new tribe of no more than 200 to 300 individuals either crossed the land bridge or followed the shorelines with boats into North America; while the Pennsylvania group followed the Atlantic coast south around the Gulf of Mexico, through Central America, and down the northern coast of South America toward the mouth of the Amazon. At the same time, we repopulated Britain. By 14,700 Lake Victoria refilled and the Nile’s flow resumed.

As North America’s glaciers melted they formed a vast lake in Montana 2000 feet (600 meters) deep. At 14,000 bp an ice dam that was confining the western end of this lake gave way and instantaneously unleashed 520 cubic miles (2200 cubic km) of water. The cataclysm carved out a canyon now called the Scablands of eastern Washington State and scattered boulders as large as 100 tons, no doubt making quite an impression on the people who were living nearby but at a safe enough distance to survive it. From that time until 12,500 the Amazon delta people continued down the Atlantic coast of South America to Cape Horn. Another clan emerged from their refuge in Alaska and moved southward to establish the Clovis culture in New Mexico and then to branch off through Central America and move down the Pacific coast to southern Argentina. From 12,500 to 10,000 we settled the rest of North America; but at about the same time the climate cooled into a kind of miniature ice age and drove humans again out of Britain. In 11,300 a supernova in the constellation Vela exploded and for several weeks shone as bright as the moon.

Anatole France and Lord Byron
Anatole France and Lord Byron
So far the most recent Flores Man fossils date from 12,000 bp in the Malay Archipelago, but to those who would write their obituary many are saying not so fast. The Floreses, closely related to Homo erectus, were only about a meter tall and had chimp-sized brains weighing only about 15 ounces. The latter seems not to have hindered them, though. We know that Floreses made and used sophisticated stone tools, organized group hunts for dwarf elephants and Komodo dragon lizards, and cooked their food in fireplaces. Even within our own species brain size can vary greatly with no apparent ill effect. Average is 48 ounces (1350 grams), but the brain of author Anatole France (1844-1924) weighed 37 ounces while that of Lord Byron (1788-1824) weighed a whopping 79. Further, an adult Flores only weighed about 55 pounds (25 kg) in total, yielding a brain-to-body ratio of 1.7% which is very nearly human.

In any case Flores Islanders insist that tiny manlike creatures their ancestors called ebu gogos, who “murmured” among themselves, were still alive when Dutch trading ships arrived in the 1500s. And modern cryptozoölogists (folks who investigate undocumented animals) have for decades doggedly pursued in those same dark jungles an allegedly extant bipedal primate called the orang pendek or sedapa. Stay tuned.

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