National Geographic Scientist Uncovers Treasure Trove of Human Fossils That Could Challenge Rules of Human Evolution
March 11, 2008 --
Tiny Humans Living as Recently as 1,500 Years Ago Could Rewrite the Timeline for Human Evolution
"Mystery Skulls of Palau" Premieres
The story of human evolution is filled with unexpected twists and turns. In 2004, a groundbreaking discovery made headlines around the world when scientists revealed evidence of a lost human species on the remote Indonesian island of Flores. Researchers believe Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "The Hobbit," shared the earth with modern humans for at least 80,000 years. Is it possible that a wandering tribe of hobbit-like humans made their way 1,800 miles from Flores to
As the journey unfolds, the researchers excavate the delicate fossils, and the appearance of the cave's inhabitants starts to take shape. One skull has a pronounced brow ridge that looks somewhat like that of a Neanderthal, with a wide nose, small eyes and a strange, flat face. But then the mystery deepens. Within minutes of entering the cave, the research team makes another discovery that raises the stakes even higher: the plentitude of bones suggests that the cave could have been the mass grave of an entire community. The scientists begin their investigation by creating a laser grid of the cave to design a 3-D CGI map so they can easily return to the "virtual" cave once the expedition has ended. A geologist collects samples from different layers of the cave floor for carbon dating.
Back at a lab at Palau's National Museum, Berger and his team realize that what looked like a pronounced brow ridge is only a deposit of calcrete -- a mineral deposit left by rainwater over hundreds of years. When researchers scrape away the calcrete, the skull looks more modern, forcing the scientists to re-evaluate their estimate of the fossils' age. This yields an even more astonishing revelation: These bones could belong to an unknown tribe of tiny humans living in an evolutionary time warp just 3,000 years ago.
But Berger wants to know why the members of this tribe had such large teeth. One theory suggests that these people were Homo sapiens whose bodies and brain cavities shrank from one generation to the next to cope with a lack of nutrition, while their teeth, which typically evolve more slowly than other parts of the body, did not. This would mean that rather than evolving over tens of thousands of years, these "little people" evolved in size just a few hundred years after arriving in
At a carbon dating lab in Florida, samples taken from the cave confirm that the lost tribe existed in
On the final day of the expedition, Berger journeys to the other side of
Other experts featured in the "Mystery Skulls of Palau" include Prithijit Chatrath, paleontologist, Duke University;
"Mystery Skulls of Palau" is produced by Parthenon Entertainment Limited for National Geographic Channel. Producer, director and editor for Parthenon is
Based at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., the National Geographic Channel (NGC) is a joint venture between National Geographic Ventures (NGV) and Fox Cable Networks (FCN). Since launching in
SOURCE National Geographic Channel
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