Going with the Flo

November 06, 2004

WE WERE not alone. At least as recently as 13,000 years ago - yesterday in geologic time - we humans of the branch sapiens shared the planet with a little lady and her kin of the branch floresiensis.

The discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores last fall of the 18,000-year-old remains of this little lady, let's call her Flo, and as many as seven of her contemporaries shook up the experts. It dents the lay person's sense of self as well. How? Try these:

We are not so much beyond the biological sculptor that is evolution. Just as elephants and other fauna mutated to thrive on the bare island, Flo's people are thought to have shrunk - their bodies to the size of a current 3-year-old, their brains to the size of a grapefruit. If true, they would be the first humanoid strain to radically develop "backward," affected by environment. As much as we think we shape the world, or are the ultimate final perfected example of the human species, Flo is a reminder that it ain't so.

Our big brains don't make us so special. With their grapefruit brains, Flo's folk made fire and tools, hunted the pony-sized elephants, spoke to one another and generally did much of what their taller cousins with larger brains did.

We may not be alone now. Perhaps Flo's offspring are making a go of it on one of the other, even remoter, islands - could even Bigfoot be real?

Our branch promises to continue to look for answers, and welcome any relatives we find on the way.

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