Investigating Homo floresiensis and the myth of the ebu gogo

C C Offline

EXCERPT: An ancient legend from the Indonesian island of Flores speaks of a mysterious, wild grandmother of the forest who eats everything: the ‘ebu gogo’. According to folklore, such tiny, hairy people as her once roamed the tropical forests alongside modern humans, eating crops and sometimes even human flesh. For decades, ethnographers documented the tale, recording details of the ebu gogo’s mumbling speech to her long, pendulous breasts, all while assuming the story was simply a myth. The legend became viewed in entirely new light, however, when the bones of an equally small, previously unknown species of human relative was discovered deep in a cave on the very same island.

The 2004 announcement of a new branch on the human evolutionary tree was astonishing, to say the least. Standing just over a metre tall, the hominin labelled Homo floresiensis had a small brain, the apparent ability to make arduous water crossings, and seemingly honed skills in making stone tools. Much of the species’ anatomy looked primitive, yet evidence for their behaviour indicated an advanced, humanlike being. The hominin was so seemingly mythical that the research team drew from J R R Tolkien’s fictional world for its nickname: the hobbit.

Arguably the strangest aspect of the diminutive hominins’ story was the suggestion that they survived into the recent past, roaming the tropical forests and ancient volcanoes as recently as 12,000 years ago. Not only was this date surprising because it is a time when scientists believed that Homo sapiens were alone on the planet, but also because it was long after the arrival of modern humans in the area – tens of thousands of years after, in fact. Had hobbits lived alongside our own species for all that time?

Associations between ebu gogo and H floresiensis arose immediately after the media hobbit frenzy broke. From news headlines to scientific meetings, people wondered: could these two creatures be one and the same? Had the locals been imagining mythical, wild people of the forest – or merely reporting on them? [...] The proposed connection ... raised an interesting question ... how far back in time can oral traditions accurately report events? Some scientists studying indigenous memory have suggested that oral traditions contain extraordinarily reliable records of real events occurring thousands of years ago...

[...] The myth persisted even as real scientists scoffed. But eventually holes in the ebu gogo/H floresiensis association grew too large to be ignored. Each expedition in search of a reported sighting revealed an empty cave or else, a macaque. New pieces of scientific evidence have also made the connection increasingly implausible, especially a revision of the dating that moved the hobbits’ disappearance to almost 50,000 years ago. To experts, ebu gogo was about as real as the tooth fairy.

[...] H floresiensis revealed that the past was more bizarre than we imagined, full of evolutionary hodgepodges, unexpected migrations, and life in surprising places. And while the legend of ebu gogo failed to echo paleoanthropological reality, such botched connections are not always the case... (MORE - details)
Yazata Offline
It's conceivable that a small number of hominins other than modern Homo sapiens did survive until fairly recently. It's even conceivable that a handful survive today (bigfoot, yeti, sasquatch and things like trolls, as angry as that idea will make some people). So it isn't impossible that world legends and mythologies do retain traces of them.

It's unlikely in my opinion, but possible. It's more likely that these things became extinct so long ago that no memory of them remains.

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