There is a new paper out suggesting that the Flores hominids, known as Hobbits, were “human endemic cretins.”From the abstract of this paper:

… We hypothesize that these individuals are myxoedematous endemic (ME) cretins, part of an inland population of (mostly unaffected) Homo sapiens. ME cretins are born without a functioning thyroid; their congenital hypothyroidism leads to severe dwarfism and reduced brain size, but less severe mental retardation and motor disability than neurological endemic cretins. We show that the fossils display many signs of congenital hypothyroidism, including enlarged pituitary fossa, and that distinctive primitive features of LB1 such as the double rooted lower premolar and the primitive wrist morphology are consistent with the hypothesis. We find that the null hypothesis (that LB1 is not a cretin) is rejected by the pituitary fossa size of LB1, and by multivariate analyses of cranial measures. We show that critical environmental factors were potentially present on Flores, how remains of cretins but not of unaffected individuals could be preserved in caves, and that extant oral traditions may provide a record of cretinism.

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ResearchBlogging.orgFallback foods are the foods that an organism eats when it can’t find the good stuff. It has been suggested that adaptive changes in fallback food strategies can leave a more distinct mark on the morphology of an organism, including in the fossil record, than changes in preferred food strategies. This assertion is based on work done by the Grants and others with Galapagos Island finches, by Richard Wrangham and me with hominids, and by Betsy Burr and me with rodents. Continue reading

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

Every few years a paper comes out “explaining” short stature in one or more Pygmy groups. Most of the time the new work ads new information and new ideas but fails to be convincing. This is the case with the recent PNAS paper by Migliano et al.

From the abstract:

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From a UC Santa Cruz Press Release:

The infamous Indian Ocean tsunami that struck on December 26, 2004, caused tragically high mortality–from 10 to 90 percent of the population at various locations. Yet in 1930 a tsunami of similar size, generated by an earthquake near the Ninigo Islands, struck northern Papua New Guinea and killed just 0.1 to 1 percent of the population on the coast there.Why were these islanders living earlier in the century better protected?…

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i-fc0baa42c324cefa8495fdb0044234b2-dice.jpgI have a cousin in law who tells this story: Her youngest child found out about sex. Then he made the connection that if he existed, his parents must have had sex. So he confronted the parents with this, and mom was forced to admit, yes, of course, this is how babies get “made” and this is simply how things are. The child did not seem too concerned.Moments later, the child noticed his sister playing in the other room. A thought occurred to him … a light went on, as it were. He turned back to his mother with an expression somewhere between accusation and perplexity.”You did it twice?!?!?” Continue reading

Painting of a Gaucho
Click to visit Obkouna Art Works

You may have noticed that these posts on Darwin are (so far) in alphabetical order. So this means, if I’m doing Gauchos, I must not be doing Fuegians. Maybe I’m saving Fuegians for 2009!?

But I will mention them. The Fuegians live in Tierra del Fuego (no surprise there) way down at the southern tip of South America. Most people know that, but did you also know that when the Beagle departed Portsmouth Harbor in 1831, it was carrying three Fuegians previously captured by Fitzroy and brought to England?

The Gauchos are the cowboys of the so-called Southern Cone and Pampas. The Gauchos are a Latin American version the horse mounted pastoralists that emerged wherever four things are found together: Grasslands, horses, people and cattle. Like all horse-mounted pastoralists, they have been known to have certain cultural tendencies or traits. These include being incredibly good horse riders. It includes a disdain for any sort of locomotion that does not involve a horse. The Gauchos are held in high esteem as a symbol of trustworthiness and strength, this symbol commonly exploited in regional politics in Argentina and Brazil, or by sports teams (in a mascot-like fashion), even in North America.

The Gauchos are beings with four hooved-legs and two heads because a Gaucho is nothing without his horse. Most wars in the region required Gaucho calvary.

Darwin spent a fair amount of time among the Gauchos, and both Darwin and Fitzroy Continue reading