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.
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.