The Cannibal In the Jungle: When Cultural Memories Meet Science

posted: 05/08/15
Homo floresiensis
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The skull, left, of a newly discovered 18,000-year-old species, known as Homo floresiensis, is displayed next to a normal human's skull, right, at a news conference in Yogyakarta, Indonesia Friday, Nov. 5, 2004. In a breathtaking discovery, scientists working on a remote Indonesian island of Flores say they have uncovered the bones of a human dwarf species marooned for eons while modern man rapidly colonized the rest of the planet.
AP Photo/str

Deep in the forests of the island of Flores, Indonesia, local legend describes a human-like creature - smaller in stature and one with a voracious appetite - that would kidnap children and eat human babies.

Known as the 'Ebu Gogo' - "Ebu" means grandmother; and "gogo," means "he who eats anything" - the local people called the Nage have passed down monstrous tales of this mythical beast for centuries.

The Ebu Gogo were said to be nasty, gluttonous beasties - described as fast runners with wide, flat noses, broad faces, large mouths and hairy bodies. They were said to mumble in a distinct language of their own and were able to mimic human words, similar to parrots.

Because these creatures would kidnap children and steal food from villages, legend says they were driven deep into the rainforest and many killed by their human neighbors. Oral history accounts say they began to disappear with the arrival of Portuguese and Dutch settlers, starting in the 17th century.


Tune In Sunday, May 24, from 9 to 11 PM ET/PT, for the two-hour feature film THE CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE. A scripted feature based on actual science, the film ponders the existence of real three-foot-tall human-like creatures -- nicknamed Hobbits -- that might have escaped extinction to wreak havoc on a group of scientists in the rainforest of Indonesia.


 

Fast forward to Sept. 6, 2003: Indonesian and Australian excavation teams working in Liang Bua, Flores, uncovered the fossil of an unidentified hominin creature. They'd never seen anything like it.

On initial examination, the team suspected it could have been a young child given the small stature. However, the permanent teeth indicated otherwise - this creature was definitely an adult at the time of death - a female, about 30 years old.

Fossil remains indicate they were only about 3 feet, 6 inches, in height. They had small brains (about 400 cubic centimeters), no chins, receding foreheads and proportionally large feet because of their short legs. The Flores excavation team dubbed this creature a "Hobbit," given the physical attributes.

The following year, the team published their findings in the journal Nature (Oct. 28, 2004), formally recognizing the species as Homo floresiensis. This skeleton "LB1" ("Liang Bua 1") is the most complete fossil specimen ever unearthed of this species.

Homo floresiensis lived on Flores from about 95,000 to 17,000 years ago. Early humans arrived on Flores about 800,000 years ago, based on stone tool findings. These 'Hobbits' and humans certainly shared this small island.

The "Hobbits" were also believed to use stone tools; they hunted the extinct elephant species Stegodon, along with large rodents, and could have possibly used fire. Some researchers believe that, given the physical attributes, the oral histories of the Ebu Gogo could be cultural memories of this ancient human ancestor. However, there is no scientific evidence to support those claims.

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See What Real Science Has to Say About 'Hobbits':

 

 



Tune in for MONSTER WEEK, starting Sunday, May 17, through Monday, May 25, for the most bone-chilling, terrifying TV, EVER.

On Sunday, May 24, from 9 to 11 PM ET/PT, the two-hour feature film THE CANNIBAL IN THE JUNGLE follows the story of an American scientist who was convicted of killing and cannibalizing two colleagues in the jungles of Flores, Indonesia in 1977. Get the details of this scripted feature in our full Program Lineup. >>


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The Cannibal in the Jungle