Discovered: Ancient islanders just 3 feet tall

Palau, the island where the bones were discovered | Image: National Geographic If you were on vacation and discovered a skeleton, what would you do? Run away? Scream? Call for help? Lee Berger, a scientist in the field of anthropology, did none of those while on holiday on an island near the Philippines (map) – after reporting them to the authorities, he went back a few months later to take a second look at his gruesome find.

Being an anthropologist, he realized that these were no normal bones. (Click here for an excellent video) In fact, there were bones from quite a number of individuals, but they all shared a strange trait: even the fully grown adults measured just 3-4 feet high. Imagine chopping your head and feet off – that’s how tall you’d be (assuming you’re an average-height adult). They lived several millennia ago.

A size comparison of modern humans with the 'hobbit human' discovered in 2004 - it was a similar size to the newly discovered skeleton. Please note that this graphic takes the height of modern humans as the average height of a North American male | Image: Wikipedia Why? The reasons why an entire population were so short are still not totally clear, but various ideas are floating around. The island was quite short on food – many studies over the past few decades have shown that less food equals less height.

Also, because the island was isolated and there were no predators, there was little genetic variation among the small population, so any peculiar traits were reinforced, rather than being watered down as usually happens in evolution.

The mystery of the story doesn’t end there, however. You may remember when scientists announced the discovery of ‘hobbit humans’ in Indonesia a while ago. The ‘hobbits’ were classified as a totally new species. The problem is that these new discoveries share many features with the hobbits, but scientists say these are definitely Homo sapiens. That obviously causes a bit of a problem, to which no-one knows the answer – yet.

It’s not nice when scientists argue – but I suppose it’s probably nicer than discovering some bones in the middle of your vacation.


4 Responses

  1. I remember being quite fascinated by the story of Anna, a giant who lived in Nova Scotia, and the ways people of abnormal size have tried to survive and thrive. I find these “hobbits” amazing because their short stature is not caused by dwarfism, but by the effect of environmental and diet factors on an isolated population which — I’m guessing here — started with the Filipino average height which is comparatively shorter than what you’ve illustrated here.

    And I’d like to pick a nit: I know you don’t actually say that 1.8 metres is average human height, but it’s in the image description. What the Wikepedia illustration shows is average “North American male” height. Average human height would be closer to 1.68 metres.

    (By the way, I’m 1.57 metres… and no, I’m not sensitive about my height, because most people I know are about the same height. So much for the average!)

  2. Thanks for the comment – I find the issues of dwarfism and gigantism quite interesting too. The genetic processes are quite intruiging.

    Thanks for pointing out the ‘nit’ – I’ve changed the image caption to clarify this. I hope it’s not down to your jealously of being a little smaller than average… sorry. Just kidding. 😆

  3. […] “Ancient Islanders Just 3 Feet Tall“ […]

  4. “imagine chopping your head and feet off”????????

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