Monday, May 02, 2005

The littlest human?

The "hobbit," Homo floresiensis, had a segment on 60 Minutes last evening. Much ballyhooed, she was, as a second species of human who lived only 13,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Flores.

Well, it may be too early to confirm a new human species on the evidence of a single skeleton, just as it may be too early to say that the ivory-billed woodpecker is safely back from supposed extinction. But if there was one "hobbit" specimen, there are bound to be more. Let's wait and see.

What was most interesting about the CBS story was interviews with islanders who recounted tales of hairy little people who live in the mountain forests. Might Homo floresiensis still be with us, skulking in the woods up there on the flanks of the Flores volcano? Not likely. Many country people around the world have stories of wee folk who live at the edges of society.

But what a thing it would be if a remnant population of "hobbits" were discovered. It would certainly shake up notions of our own unique humanity, especially for the nearly half of Americans who explain the world with a neolithic creation myth. We are presumably less likely to wreak violence on "the other" today than in former times, but we might well kill them off with attention.