On the island of Flores in Indonesia, villagers have long told tales of a diminutive, upright-walking creature with a lopsided gait, a voracious appetite, and soft, murmuring speech.
They call it ebu gogo, "the grandmother who eats anything." Scientists best guess was that macaque monkeys inspired the ebu gogo lore. But last October, an alluring alternative came to light. A team of Australian and Indonesian researchers excavating a cave on Flores unveiled the remains of a lilliputian human--one that stood barely a meter tall--whose kind lived as recently as 13,000 years ago.
The announcement electrified the paleoanthropology community. Homo sapiens was supposed to have had the planet to itself for the past 25 millennia, free from the company of other humans following the apparent demise of the Neandertals in Europe and Homo erectus in Asia. Furthermore, hominids this tiny were known only from fossils of australopithecines (Lucy and the like) that lived nearly three million years ago--long before the emergence of H. sapiens. No one would have predicted that our own species had a contemporary as small and primitive-looking as the little Floresian. Neither would anyone have guessed that a creature with a skull the size of a grapefruit might have possessed cognitive capabilities comparable to those of anatomically modern humans.