"Hobbit" Ancestors of Early Humans Shrank Rapidly, Find Studies

New studies shed light on a species of half-size humans who lived in Indonesia 700,000 years ago.

flores man

Two new studies confirm the discovery of ancestors for a species of hominids, dubbed “hobbits” for their size, filling in a link in the evolutionary chain.

The original “hobbits” (or homo floresiensis) were discovered in 2003 on an Indonesian island of Flores. The skeletons that were found then and in subsequent years allowed the scientists to conclude that a species of hominins that were around 3.5 feet tall existed about 60,000-100,000 years ago. Despite having small brains, these little humans made and used stone tools, hunted and may have used fire.

"The hobbit was real," said archaeologist and the one of the authors of the studies Adam Brumm from the Research Centre of Human Evolution at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. "It was an ancient human species that is separate to ours and that no longer exists on the planet today."

Interestingly, scientists proposed that the hobbits arrived on the island as a larger people and shrank over time, in an process called “island dwarfism,” to adapt to their environment and scant resources. 

As the new studies shows, a group of 700,000-year-old fossils, unearthed in Flores in 2014, proves that the hobbits shrank from Homo erectus.

These fossils are of an even smaller people, which means the species must have shrank shortly after appearing on the island. An adult lower jaw fragment from one of the new fossils is 20% smaller than the smallest  lower jaw fragment of the Flores Hobbits found earlier.

The cave in Indonesia where the findings were made.

The shape and dating of these new fossils suggest they are the ancestors of the H.floresiensis. 

"All the fossils are indisputably hominin, and they appear to be remarkably similar to those of Homo floresiensis," said Yousuke Kaifu, co-author of one of the studies and a paleoanthropologist from Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

You can read the studies in Nature here and here.

Here’s a video on the Flores Hobbits from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History:

Credit: the title image is by Kinez Riza/Nature.

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
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Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine
Sponsored by Pfizer
  • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
  • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.

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