Hobbit hominins of Flores island, why extinct?

This video is a 2017 documentary on the hobbit hominins of Flores island in Indonesia.

From National Geographic, 12 March 2019:

‘Hobbit’ human story gets a twist, thanks to thousands of rat bones

An abundance of rodent remains adds new clues to the fate of the tiny human relative Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores

By Paige Madison

The limestone cave of Liang Bua, on the Indonesian island of Flores, is widely known as the hobbit cave, the site where the surprisingly tiny and enormously controversial extinct human relative Homo floresiensis was discovered. But to the scientists who excavate there, the site is known as something else entirely: the rat cave.

“The first time I went to the excavations at Liang Bua, I remember watching the bones coming out of the ground and being amazed at how it was almost all rat”, recalls Matthew Tocheri, the Canada Research Chair in Human Origins at Lakehead University.

Now, Tocheri and an international team of scientists have examined the rat bones and found evidence for major shifts in their past populations—including one around 60,000 years ago, when hobbit remains started vanishing from the cave.

“Sixty-thousand years ago is precisely when the hobbits’ presence began to decline, before disappearing from the site altogether,” says Wahyu Saptomo, head of conservation and archeometry at the Indonesian National Research Centre for Archaeology.

That means the discovery, which is being reported in the Journal of Human Evolution, not only paints a previously unknown picture of the paleoecology around Liang Bua, it also could help answer some of the biggest lingering questions concerning what happened to the hobbits.

Measuring rats

When H. floresiensis burst onto the paleoanthropological scene in 2003, its small brain and strange, primitive traits sparked debates about where it fit within the human family tree. As scientists hunted for clues to this mystery, the hobbit’s environment began to come into focus, with digs at the site revealing a cast of prehistoric characters almost as bizarre as the hobbit itself, from giant storks to cow-sized elephant relatives and ancient komodo dragons.

Yet, the most plentiful creatures found beneath the surface of the cave floor by far are rats, which make up 80 percent of the identifiable bones at the site.

The rats of Flores aren’t your average rodents; this is as true today as it was when H. floresiensis roamed the landscape. One of the rat species alive today is as large as a small dog, and while this giant rat usually garners the spotlight, it is only one of many species preserved at Liang Bua, each one varying in size, behavior, and food preference.

Of all the species on Earth, “rodents are the most diverse group of mammals”, remarks study leader Elizabeth Veatch, a graduate student at Emory University who is affectionately known by the research team as Miss Tikus (Indonesian for “rat lady”). And in paleoanthropology sites, these variations can convey information about the local ecology and environment through time.

Rats are exceptionally useful for painting the picture of prehistoric life at Liang Bua because their bones appear continuously in the cave sequence. While hobbits, stegodons, and others come and go, the rats persist throughout the roughly 190,000-year stretch preserved under the cave floor.

“Homo floresiensis and modern humans are simply occasional guests that check in and check out for limited stays,” Tocheri points out. (Find out more about the hunt for hobbit DNA.)

Using the rats’ diversity and temporal persistence, and with partial funding from the National Geographic Society, Veatch and Tocheri measured more than 12,000 rat bones, grouped them in size classes, and tracked the relative abundances of each class throughout the stratigraphic sequence. That’s when a striking signal emerged: Medium-size rats that prefer more open habitats dominated the site until about 60,000 years ago, when the bones give way to smaller, more forest-adapted rats.

This shift, the team hypothesizes, reflects a change in the environment surrounding the cave with “more open habitats giving way to more closed ones”, says Jatmiko, a study coauthor and researcher at the Indonesian National Research Centre for Archaeology.

Hobbit migration?

This ecological shift doesn’t just effect only the hobbits, the team suggests: “H. floresiensis wasn’t alone in this departure—the remaining large species followed suit. By 50,000 years ago, all traces of hobbit, stegodon, vulture, stork, and komodo dragon were gone from the cave,” Saptomo says.

Previously, scientists hypothesized that the large fauna on Flores went extinct. “The signal from the rats, however, suggests H. floresiensis’ departure from Liang Bua may simply be because they—and the others—left in search of more open environments,” Veatch says. (On the neighboring island of Sulawesi, scientists also found stone tools that may have belonged to a hobbit relative.)

In essence, the hobbits and their giant animal neighbors didn’t necessarily die out at that time, but may have moved on to more hospitable parts of the island, says coauthor Thomas Sutikna of Wollongong University.

“There is the possibility that some of them still survive after that time somewhere on Flores,” he says.

The team’s analysis is “elegant and careful”, says Bernard Wood, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology at George Washington University, who adds that it showcases the need to take many possible interpretations of a given fossil record into account. “This study is yet another example of the folly of equating the end of the fossil record of a taxon at a local site, or sites, with its extinction across a much larger region,” he says.

For instance, the results could mean that the hobbit species lingered into the more recent past—and may have even come into contact with our ancient ancestors. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) appear to have arrived on the island by about 46,000 years ago, and a possible extension of the hobbits’ presence on Flores suggests that they might have encountered modern humans elsewhere on the island.

Resolving such questions will require additional discoveries—in this case, at Liang Bua and elsewhere on Flores. If scientists are fortunate, they will find more caves and sites containing the bones of H. floresiensis. And if they are even luckier, they will also uncover lots and lots of rat bones to help flesh out what exactly happened in the last days of this lost human relative.


Facebook ‘s Zuckerberg wants more internet censorship

This 7 March 2019 Canadian TV video says about itself:

Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg’s privacy-first claims get a reality check

Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg says his platform will shift its focus to privacy. We talk to industry experts to give those claims a reality check.

By Kevin Reed:

Mark Zuckerberg’s “Privacy Manifesto”: A brief for intensifying Internet and social media censorship

12 March 2019

On March 6, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a statement entitled “A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking” on the Notes tab of his personal page. Widely described as a “manifesto”, the document is a brief for ending the mass public exchange of ideas on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as across the Internet as a whole, under the guise of “protecting privacy”.

The manifesto begins with Zuckerberg emphasizing that he is “taking positions on important issues concerning the future of the Internet”, not just social media. He says that he is “working openly and consulting with experts across society as we develop this.” In other words, Facebook—which has grown to 2.7 billion users across the globe and has a Wall Street value of nearly $500 billion—is working with consultants at the highest levels of the tech industry and US intelligence establishments to develop its plan.

The core of the new strategy is the idea that an open and public social media environment—where all users can freely communicate with one another and share each other’s posts—must be replaced by a structure of one-on-one private communication between individuals. As Zuckerberg wrote, “Over the last 15 years, Facebook and Instagram have helped people connect with friends, communities, and interests in the digital equivalent of a town square. But people increasingly also want to connect privately in the digital equivalent of the living room.”

A second aspect of replacing the “town square” with the “living room” is dispensing with the Facebook timeline feature of stored posts. He writes, “I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever.”

In sum, Zuckerberg’s proposal amounts to a gigantic about-face for Facebook. The company that was founded in the 2004 with the mission “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” will now be replaced by “a world where people can speak privately and live freely knowing that their information will only be seen by who they want to see it and won’t all stick around forever.”

Zuckerberg then elaborates on six technical and policy principles for putting the social media genie back in the bottle: private interactions, encryption, reducing permanence, safety, interoperability and secure data storage.

He makes clear that the new plan is being implemented on all of Facebook’s services and writes, “We understand there are a lot of tradeoffs to get right, and we’re committed to consulting with experts and discussing the best way forward.” He never gets around to explaining precisely what the “trade-offs” are that need so much attention.

After three years of continuous battering by the corporate media and Washington political establishment over “fake news”, unsubstantiated claims of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and numerous data privacy violations, Zuckerberg has dutifully drafted a plan intended to mollify his critics. However, from the standpoint of the ruling class, the real problem with Facebook is none of the above-mentioned transgressions.

The advisors that Zuckerberg is collaborating with—such as The Atlantic Council—are responsible for decades of false news, political meddling and mayhem in countries around the world and covering up public privacy violations. Meanwhile, the Wall Street valuation of Facebook is predicated upon the company’s ability to scrape social media profile information and tidbits of user behavior for sales and marketing purposes. Something much bigger and more threatening to the interests of imperialism and the stock market is behind Zuckerberg’s manifesto.

Under conditions where workers and young people around the world are using social media to communicate and organize their strikes and struggles—especially coordinating across industries and national borders—the ruling class has concluded that these open platforms are a significant menace and must be shut down as soon as possible. Thus Zuckerberg’s “trade-offs” involve a direct attack on online freedom of speech that he and his advisors must now repackage in the form of privacy protection.

Since Zuckerberg’s March 6 post, some in the corporate media have focused on skepticism that the plan can deliver on its ostensible goals. Others, such as Facebook critic Roger McNamee, have argued that the manifesto is a public-relations stunt designed to shore up investor confidence and push back calls for government regulation that would break-up big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Apple.

Nowhere in the official media response is there any connection drawn between Zuckerberg’s new vision and the blatant political censorship that Facebook has been engaged in for over two years. Under the guise of fighting “fake” accounts and implementing “harm prevention”, Facebook’s army of 30,000 censors and artificial intelligence bots have removed millions of user accounts and posts arbitrarily identified as inauthentic or misinformation.

As explained by the World Socialist Web Site in its Perspective of December 29, Facebook is today the global censor that decides what information is to be seen and read by billions of people all over the world. In particular, Facebook has specifically targeted accounts, pages and posts of a left-wing character, including those of writers of the World Socialist Web Site and members of the Socialist Equality Party.

The latest proposals from Zuckerberg are of a piece with these past practices. They represent a deepening of the collaboration between the tech industry—references to encrypted communications notwithstanding—and the military-intelligence establishment. Workers and young people should not accept the claims by Zuckerberg, the media or the political establishment that they will protect the privacy rights of the public. The new Facebook vision is part of ongoing efforts to track what people are talking about on social media and, at the same time, to prevent them from using the platform to organize and coordinate their struggles.

FACEBOOK CUTS ANTI-FACEBOOK ADS Facebook temporarily removed multiple advertisements from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign that called for breaking up tech giants, including Facebook. [HuffPost]

Facebook’s Data Deals [with Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc., violating privacy] Are Under Criminal Investigation: here.

Most people who make changes to Wikipedia pages are volunteers. A few people, however, have figured out how to manipulate Wikipedia’s supposedly neutral system to turn a profit. Facebook, Axios and NBC took advantage of that and paid a guy to whitewash their Wikipedia pages. Here is Ashley Feinberg on how she got the story.

EX-FACEBOOK EXEC: ZUCKERBERG ‘HAS TOO MUCH POWER’ Facebook’s ex-security chief is urging CEO Mark Zuckerberg to step down, becoming the second former Facebook executive this month to warn against the company’s influence. “There’s a legit argument that he has too much power,” Alex Stamos said at a tech conference. “If I was him, I would go hire a new CEO.” [HuffPost]

What a young Tyrannosaurus rex ate

This video says about itself:

T-Rex: Attack of the Dinosaur | Walking with Dinosaurs in HQ | BBC

The mother Tyrannosaurus breaks her fast to provide a kill to feed her young. Even though they are small and vulnerable, the young T-Rex‘s already have a fierce competitive streak.

Broadcast in 1999, Walking with Dinosaurs set out to create the most accurate portrayal of prehistoric animals ever seen on the screen.

From the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in the USA:

Teenage T. rex was already chomping on prey

March 11, 2019

New research from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh indicates that even as a teenager the Tyrannosaurus rex showed signs that it would grow up to be a ferocious predator.

In a study published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Peerj — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences, UWO scientists reported evidence that a juvenile T. rex fed on a large plant-eating dinosaur, even though it lacked the bone-crushing abilities it would develop as an adult.

While studying fossils from an Edmontosaurus — a plant-eating Hadrosaurid or duck-billed dinosaur, UWO vertebrate paleontologist Joseph Peterson noticed three large, v-shaped, bite marks on a tail bone and wondered, “Who made these?”

Peterson knew that T. rex — a member of the meat-eating dinosaur suborder known as Theropoda — was “a likely culprit.”

“We suspected that T. rex was responsible for the bit marks, because in the upper Cretaceous rock formation, where the hadrosaur was discovered, there are only a few carnivorous dinosaurs and other reptiles in the fossil record. Crocodile fossils are found there, but such a crocodile would have left tooth marks that are round rather than the elliptical punctures we found on the vertebra,” Peterson explained.

“There also were small Velociraptor-like dinosaurs, but their teeth are too small to have made the marks. Finally, an adult T. rex would have made punctures that would have been too large! That’s when we started considering a juvenile tyrannosaur.”

To test the hypothesis, Peterson and geology student Karsen Daus, of Suamico, coated the fossil with a silicon rubber to make a silicone peel of the puncture marks.

They found that the dimensions of the “teeth” better matched a late-stage juvenile T. rex (11 to 12 years) than an adult (approximately 30 years).

“Although this T. rex was young, it really packed a punch,” Peterson said.

“This is significant to paleontology because it demonstrates how T. rex — the most popular dinosaur of all time — may have developed changes in diet and feeding abilities while growing,” he said. “This is part of a larger, ongoing research initiative by many paleontologists to better understand how T. rex grew and functioned as a living creature over 65 million years ago.”

Most theropod feeding traces and bite marks are attributed to adults; juvenile tooth marks rarely have been reported in the literature, he added.

“We really are in the ‘Golden Age’ of paleontology,” Peterson said. “We are learning more now than we ever thought we would know about dinosaurs. And, we’re learn more about how they grew up.”

Prehistoric monkey discovery in Kenya

This August 2017 video from Kenya says about itself:

Nengo et al. New infant cranium from the African Miocene sheds light on ape evolution. Nature 10 August 2017.

From the University of Texas at Austin in the USA:

Fossil teeth from Kenya solve ancient monkey mystery

March 11, 2019

The teeth of a new fossil monkey, unearthed in the badlands of northwest Kenya, help fill a 6-million-year void in Old World monkey evolution, according to a study by U.S. and Kenyan scientists published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery of 22-million-year-old fossilized monkey teeth — described as belonging to a new species, Alophia metios — fills a void between a previously discovered 19-million-year-old fossil tooth in Uganda and a 25-million-year-old fossil tooth found in Tanzania. The finding also sheds light on how their diet may have changed the course of their evolution.

“For a group as highly successful as the monkeys of Africa and Asia, it would seem that scientists would have already figured out their evolutionary history,” said the study’s corresponding author John Kappelman, an anthropology and geology professor at The University of Texas at Austin. “Although the isolated tooth from Tanzania is important for documenting the earliest occurrence of monkeys, the next 6 million years of the group’s existence are one big blank. This new monkey importantly reveals what happened during the group’s later evolution.”

Since the time interval from 19 to 25 million years ago is represented by a small number of African fossil sites, the team targeted the famous fossil-rich region of West Turkana to try to fill in that blank.

“Today, this region is very arid,” said Benson Kyongo, a collections manager at the National Museums of Kenya. “But millions of years ago, it was a forest and woodland landscape crisscrossed by rivers and streams. These ancient monkeys were living the good life.”

While in the field, the team uncovered hundreds of mammal and reptile jaws, limbs and teeth ranging from 21 million to more than 24 million years old, including remains of early elephants. The newly discovered monkey teeth are more primitive than geologically younger monkey fossils, lacking what researchers referred to as “lophs”, or a pair of molar crests, thus earning the new species its name, Alophia, meaning “without lophs.”

“These teeth are so primitive that when we first showed them to other scientists, they told us, “Oh no, that isn’t a monkey. It’s a pig”, said Ellen Miller, an anthropology professor at Wake Forest University. “But because of other dental features, we are able to convince them that yes, it is in fact a monkey.”

The success of Old World monkeys appears to be closely tied to their unique dentition, researchers said. Today, the configuration of cusps and lophs on the molar teeth enable them to process the wide range of plant and animal foods encountered in the diverse environments of Africa and Asia.

“You can think of the modern-day monkey molar as the uber food processor, able to slice, dice, mince and crush all sorts of foods,” said Mercedes Gutierrez, an anatomy professor at the University of Minnesota.

“How and when this unique dentition evolved is one of the unanswered questions in primate evolution,” said James Rossie, an anthropology professor at Stony Brook University. The researchers speculated that Alophia’s primitive dentition was adapted to a diet that consisted of hard fruits, seeds and nuts, and not leaves, which are more efficiently processed by the more evolved dentition of fossil monkeys dating from after 19 million years ago.

“It is usually assumed that the trait responsible for a group’s success evolved when the group originated, but Alophia shows us this is not the case for Old World monkeys,” said Samuel Muteti, a researcher at the National Museums of Kenya. “Instead, the characteristic dentition of modern monkeys evolved long after the group first appeared.”

The researchers hypothesized that the inclusion of leaves in the diet is what later drove monkey dental evolution.

Monkeys originated at a time when Africa and Arabia were joined as an island continent, with its animals evolving in isolation until docking with Eurasia sometime between 20 million and 24 million years ago. It was only after docking that the mammals today typically considered “African” — antelope, pigs, lions, rhinos, etc. — made their entry onto the continent. So, researchers asked: Could this event and possible competition between the residents and the newly arrived Eurasian species have driven monkeys to exploit leaves, or did changing climates serve to make leaves a more attractive menu entrée?

“The way to test between these hypotheses is to collect more fossils,” Kappelman said. “Establishing when, exactly, the Eurasian fauna entered Afro-Arabia remains one of the most important questions in paleontology, and West Turkana is one of the only places we know of to find that answer.”

The team intends to be back in the field later this year.