A New Clue to the Timeline of Human Evolution

Island Fox Skeleton

A skeleton of an island fox. Credit: University of Missouri

University of Missouri researcher adds to timeline of human evolution by studying an island fox.

Nearly two decades ago, a small-bodied “human-like” fossil, Homo floresiensis, was discovered on an island in Indonesia. Some scientists have credited the find, now nicknamed “Hobbit,” as representative of a human ancestor who developed dwarfed features after living on the island, while others suggest it represents a modern human suffering from some type of disease because of its distinct human-like face and small brain.

Colleen B. Young, a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Missouri, has always been naturally curious about the nature of the human “footprint,” or how humans impact their environments and vice versa. She believes the Hobbit adjusted from a longer-legged version of itself to meet the demands of an isolated, island environment.

Homo erectus, considered our recent ancestor, likely developed its long legs over time in order to increase its ability to walk long distances as its environment expanded,” Young said. “So, when humans arrived on that island in Indonesia and became isolated, their bodies — once built for efficiency over long distances — were probably no longer beneficial for their new environment. Instead, a smaller body size probably improved their lifestyle.”

Bones of Foxes

Bones of foxes used in analysis. From left to right: femur, tibia, radius, and humerus. Credit: University of Missouri

Young, who is working on her doctorate in biological anthropology in the College of Arts and Science, tested several popular assumptions about the characteristics of Homo floresiensis by comparing an island fox from California’s Channel Islands with its mainland U.S. relative, the gray fox. Young said upon arrival, the island fox underwent a 30% reduction in body size and developed smaller body features that are different than the mainland gray fox. She believes this change in body size was likely due to adjustments the island fox made to survive in its new, isolated environment.

“The gray fox is a migratory, omnivorous animal, similar to our recent ancestors,” Young said. “This study indicates that animals living on islands that become smaller in size may also have distinct limbs and body features just because of their new island environment. Therefore, the distinctive body features on the small-bodied Homo floresiensis are probably products of evolving in an island environment, and not resulting from suffering from diseases.”

Young said this animal model, which includes taking into account the surrounding ecosystem, can help scientists better understand the body size and limbs of Homo floresiensis, and how they relate to human ancestors. She thinks this model can also help open new doors in the field of anthropology.

“The popular idea that every little difference in a fossil means the discovery of a new species is probably not as accurate as we once thought,” Young said. “There was probably a lot more variation going on throughout human evolution than we first thought, and these findings exemplify that variation can occur just by migrating to and living on an island. We’re just starting to scratch the surface.”

“Static allometry of a small-bodied omnivore: body size and limb scaling of an island fox and inferences for Homo floresiensis” was published in the Journal of Human Evolution. Funding was provided by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program grant.

Reference: “Static allometry of a small-bodied omnivore: body size and limb scaling of an island fox and inferences for Homo floresiensis” by Colleen B. Young, 1 November 2020, Journal of Human Evolution.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2020.102899

22 Comments on "A New Clue to the Timeline of Human Evolution"

  1. It is difficult for me to imagine how dwarfism would immediately convey an advantage to the initial individual(s). They would be at a competitive disadvantage during conflicts with larger individuals, and depending on what they were hunting, may not have been as effective hunters as the larger humans. They may have been rejected by the tribe as being defective, and if not outright persecuted as albinos in Africa often are, men may have had difficulty finding mates among larger women. Thus, random mutations of dwarfism would be at risk of being wiped out before they could establish themselves.

    Having said that, there is evidence that late-surviving mammoths, stranded on islands, grew smaller over time. However, I’m not sure that we understand well why these changes take place.

    • Well. Nobody seems to consider the effects of the very limited diet available on islands. Even now it is clear that genetics and diet (and the mothers diet) plays a major role in the physical growth of any individual. Fast forward a few generations and it is the diet more than the island environment that makes the difference. This research has very little value. It reflect only very limited observations on the level of a school project.

  2. I’m still Not related to any of you..I was left by an alien troop ship that stopped by for ice and water..Snuck outside chasing frogs and they left me..All good…

    • Probably happened multiple times, different aliens. …Why oh why couldn’t they have left us peaceful cave people alone? Just a hybrid mess now!

  3. You reliaze that this discovery could upend our entire classification of the all order up to Orders? Certainly at the species level. Astounding!

  4. We all are the product of alien genetic manipulation gone out of control..

  5. I’ve always loved your music, David, and would never have guessed that was an alien mustache..

  6. Hello, why do believe and give chances to anything, like aliens and stuff. But when it comes to intelligent design, it’s seems like you don’t even want to consider it.

  7. Wasn’t Mr Darwin who said that while he was pretty sure that Natural Selection sorted out which mutated individuals survived – he didn’t have much of a clue how it happened except extremely slowly?
    Dwarfism or for that matter – giantism didn’t happen in one jump so a big girl never had the perplexing problem of choosing a dwarf male but the tendency towards being smaller was carried forward in genes of their children.
    Mr Darwin was never quite happy with the full explanation of what makes a Specie different from a variety and even our knowledge of molecular biology hasn’t improved matters much, just made the arguments more complex.

  8. Edwin Phillips | December 14, 2020 at 6:45 am | Reply

    99.999% Conjecture. You don’t know if this fossil ever found a mate and had offspring….
    Because of your preconceived “Beliefs ” you look at the same evidence but all you see is what you want to support your Religion.
    Common Ancestry Evolution is a Religion.
    All life came from nothing exploding made a hot rock and millions of years of rain made a soup that magically came to life and everything evolved from the soup.
    That is a Religion….. You have to have Faith and believe that nonsense.
    It takes a Blind and Special kind of Stupidity to Believe that.
    Wow! Open your eyes and look outside your blinders….
    ” In the Last days there will be Scoffers, willingly Ignorant ( dumb on purpose) of the Creation, Flood, and Judgement to come”

    Reason: Seeking after their own Lust…..

    Wake up , time is Short!

  9. What David said..

  10. I heard that dolphins have vestigial legs…
    It would seem evolution defeated the porpoise!

  11. Some really loose brains on these text snippets. Scary stuff.

  12. Here’s one of those many times where some small thing is found, confirming nothing, but like about anything, could potentially support a million different wild theories (e.g., they had midgets back then too), and yet the self-appointed authorities create a detailed narrative based on it, as if they were there at the time. Wild indeed!

  13. God made man in HIS image.. he made animals on a different day.
    Go from there..
    God did reveal this information.. it’s not difficult to access.
    II Tim 3:16

  14. Clever research, and it makes sense, especially when even today the relatively isolated Mediterranean island of Sardinia has long been known for harboring a population with a shorter average body height than almost every other ethnic group in Europe.

  15. It’s not evolution, it’s adaptation. The species hasn’t changed from one to another, just adapted to new conditions.

  16. Kathy M Phelps | December 15, 2020 at 6:10 am | Reply

    I believe it is possible that humans change over time to adjust to limited resources.

  17. Babu G. Ranganathan | December 15, 2020 at 6:32 am | Reply

    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)

    THE NATURAL LIMITS TO EVOLUTION

    ONLY LIMITED EVOLUTION (micro-evolution or evolution within biological “kinds”) is genetically possible (such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.), but not macro-evolution, or evolution across biological “kinds,” (such as from sea sponge to human). All real evolution in nature is simply the expression, over time, of already existing genes or variations of already existing genes. For example, we have breeds of dogs today that we didn’t have a few hundred years ago. The genes for these breeds had always existed in the dog population but never had opportunity before to be expressed. Only limited evolution, variations of already existing genes and traits, is possible.

    The genes (chemical instructions or code) for a trait must first exist or otherwise the trait cannot come into existence. Genes instruct the body to build our tissues and organs. Nature is mindless and has no ability to design and program entirely new genes for entirely new traits.

    Evolutionists believe that, if given millions of years, accidents in the genetic code of species caused by the environment will generate entirely new code making evolution possible from one type of life to another. It’s much like believing that by randomly changing the sequence of letters in a romance novel, over millions of years, can turn the novel into a book on astronomy! Not to worry. We’ll address the issue of “Junk DNA” in a moment.

    WHAT ABOUT NATURAL SELECTION? Natural selection doesn’t produce biological traits or variations. It can only “select” from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value.

    HOW COULD SPECIES HAVE SURVIVED if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems, etc. were still evolving? A partially evolved trait or organ that is not complete and fully integrated and functioning from the start would be a liability to a species, not a survival asset. Plants and animals in the process of macro-evolution would be unfit for survival. For example, “if a leg of a reptile were to evolve (over supposedly millions of years) into a wing of a bird, it would become a bad leg long before it became a good wing” (Dr. Walt Brown, scientist and creationist). Survival of the fittest actually would have prevented evolution across biological kinds!

    NEW SPECIES BUT NOT NEW DNA: Although it’s been observed that new species have come into existence, they don’t carry any new genes. They’ve become new species only because they can’t be crossed back with the original parent stock for various biological reasons. A biological “kind” allows for new species but not new genes. Nature has no ability to invent new genes for new traits. Only limited variations and adaptations are possible in nature, and all strictly within a biological “kind” (i.e. varieties of dogs, cats, etc.).

    Dr. Randy J. Guliuzza’s extensive research points to a better explanation than natural selection for variation and adaptation in nature. Dr. Guliuzza explains that species have pre-engineered mechanisms that enable organisms to continuously track and respond to environmental changes with system elements that correspond to human-designed tracking systems. This model is called CET (continuous environmental tracking). His research strongly indicates that living things have been pre-engineered to produce the right adaptations and changes required to live in changing environments. It’s much like a car that’s been pre-engineered so that the head lights turn on automatically when day changes to night.

    What about genetic and biological similarities between species? Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot happen by chance, so it is more logical to believe that genetic and biological similarities between all forms of life are due to a common Designer who designed similar functions for similar purposes. It doesn’t mean all forms of life are biologically related! Only genetic similarities within a natural species proves relationship because it’s only within a natural species that members can interbreed and reproduce.

    Many people have wrong ideas of how evolution is supposed to work. Physical traits and characteristics are determined and passed on by genes – not by what happens to our body parts. For example, if a woman were to lose her finger this wouldn’t affect how many fingers her baby will have. Changing the color and texture of your hair will not affect the color and texture of your children’s hair. So, even if an ape or ape-like creature’s muscles and bones changed so that it could walk upright it still would not be able to pass on this trait to its offspring. Only changes or mutations that occur in the genetic code of reproductive cells (i.e. sperm and egg) can be passed on to offspring.

    What about the new science of epigenetics? Epigenetics involves inheritable factors which can turn already-existing genes on, but epigenetics doesn’t create new genes.

    Most biological variations are from new combinations of already existing genes, not mutations. Mutations are accidents in the genetic code caused by nature (i.e. environmental radiation), are mostly harmful, and have no capability of producing greater complexity in the code. Even if a good accident occurred, for every good one there would be hundreds of harmful ones with the net result, over time, being harmful, even lethal, to the species. Even if a single mutation is not immediately harmful, the accumulation of mutations over time will be harmful to the species resulting in extinction. At very best, mutations only produce further variations within a natural species.

    All species of plants and animals in the fossil record are found complete, fully formed, and fully functional. This is powerful evidence that all species came into existence as complete and fully formed from the beginning. This is only possible by creation.

    God began with a perfect and harmonious creation. Even all the animals were vegetarian (Genesis 1:30) in the beginning and did not struggle for survival nor kill and devour each other. Macro-evolutionary theory does not begin with a perfect and harmonious creation as the Bible states. The Bible and macro-evolutionary theory cannot both be true.

    All the fossils that have been used to support human evolution have been found to be either hoaxes, non-human, or human, but not non-human and human (i.e. Neanderthal Man was discovered later to be fully human).

    There has never been unanimous agreement among evolutionary scientists on ANY fossil evidence that has been used to support human evolution over the many years, Including LUCY.

    The actual similarity between ape and human DNA is between 70-87% not 99.8% as commonly believed. The original research stating 99.8% similarity was based on ignoring contradicting evidence. Only a certain segment of DNA between apes and humans was compared, not the entire DNA genome.

    Also, so-called “Junk DNA” isn’t junk. Although these “non-coding” segments of DNA don’t code for proteins, they have recently been found to be vital in regulating gene expression (i.e. when, where, and how genes are expressed, so they’re not “junk”). Also, there is evidence that, in certain situations, they can code for protein.

    ARE FOSSILS REALLY MILLIONS OF YEARS OLD? (Internet article by author)

    Visit my latest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION (This site answers many arguments, both old and new, that have been used by evolutionists to support their theory)

    Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

    *I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I’ve been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who in The East” for my writings on religion and science.

  18. Oh, come on: The remains of modern humans have been discovered and verified as living at least 200,000 years ago. They seem to have appeared suddenly with chromosome #2 as it is now.

  19. I don’t understand what science acts like evolution is real we already know from CIA released documents do to the information act after 2001. We are a product of convergent evolution from “humanoids” on other planets- Bob Wood- CIA UNCLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS

  20. I appreciate that the author used the comparison with the fox but this is a hypothesis at best. Flores may seem like just a small island on a world map but having been there, it is a vast land mass that may take 24 hours to cross by vehicle winding through the two thousand volcanoes, colored lakes, and cave systems. It isn’t a Pacific atoll and would take a lifetime to explore so I don’t see evidence for the island dwarfism and is just as likely an early exiting H Habilis, a close relative to the small brain diminutive H erectus from Dmanisi, or a close relative to H Luzonensis Having been to the three sites in PI, Flores, and Georgia I’d guess the Dmanisi H Erectus spread to Flores and PI probably both changing a bit given the time from 1.9 mil to 700k but without protein analysis that is conjecture

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