Ball Lightning May Be All in Your Head At least half of reported cases could be hallucinations, study says.
Illustration from Mary Evans Picture Library, Alamy
for National Geographic News
Published May 14, 2010 Mysterious floating blobs of light known as ball lightning might simply be hallucinations caused by overstimulated brains, a new study suggests.
For hundreds of years eyewitnesses have reported brief encounters with the golf ball- to tennis ball-size orbs of electricity. But scientists have been unable to agree on how and why ball lightning forms, since the phenomenon is rare and very short-lived.
Ball lightning is often reported during thunderstorms, and it's known that multiple consecutive lightning strikes can create strong magnetic fields. So Joseph Peer and Alexander Kendl at the University of Innsbruck in Austria wondered whether ball lightning is really a hallucination induced by magnetic stimulation of the brain's visual cortex or the eye's retina.
In previous experiments, other scientists had exposed humans to strong, rapidly changing magnetic fields using a medical machine called a transcranial magnetic stimulator, or TMS. The machine's magnetic fields are powerful enough to induce electric currents in human brain cells without being harmful.
Focusing magnetic fields on the visual cortex of the brain caused the subjects to see luminous discs and lines. When the focus was moved around within the visual cortex, the subjects reported seeing the lights move.
In their paper, which appeared online May 7 on the physics research website arXiv.org ( arxiv.org/abs/1005.1153 ), Peer and Kendl argue that magnetic fields made by lightning could have the same effect as TMS machines on nearby humans.
In fact, the pair thinks about half of all ball lightning reports are actually tricks of the mind induced by magnetism.
Ball Lightning Still Feasible in Nature
The researchers make a convincing argument that some ball lightning reports are spurred by hallucinations, said John Abrahamson, a chemist and ball lightning expert at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand who was not involved in the study.
But "I cannot believe that most of the images reported as ball lightning are due to this brain influence," Abrahamson said in an email.
For one thing, the colors of light seen by the subjects in the experiment were "white, gray, or in unsaturated colors." But ball lightning has been reported in a variety of colors, including orange, green, and blue, Abrahamson said.
Also, some eyewitness reports of ball lightning include close-up observations detailing the internal structures of the balls and even associated smells and sounds.
Some reports of ball lightning even involve multiple eyewitnesses who saw the same phenomenon from different angles and saw the balls trevl in the same directions.
"This common geometric perception from different angles would be very unlikely if their brains were being stimulated" by the local magnetic field caused by lightning strikes, Abrahamson said.
Eli Jerby, an engineer at Tel Aviv University in Israel, has actually created something similar to ball lightning in the lab. He also doesn't think hallucinations could account for all ball lightning reports.
"While hallucinations could explain some cases, the effect of ball lightning is yet feasible in both nature and the laboratory," Jerby said in an email.
"Furthermore, with the recent experimental progress by us and by others, we are closer than ever to simulating natural ball lightning completely in the lab, and to explaining the real ball lightning enigma" in nature.
The Kitchenuhmaykoosib creature found on the shore of a lake in Ontario. Picture: Kitchenuhmaykoosib.com
A BIZARRE animal corpse has washed up on a Canadian beach, reviving memories of the infamous "Montauk monster" that was discovered in 2008.
Locals in a small Canadian town have been stumped by the appearance of the creature which was dragged from a lake.
Its long hairy body with bald skin on its head, feet and face, has prompted wild internet speculation that it is a more evolved version of the famous "Montauk monster" which is believed to be either some sort of raccoon or creative latex work.
The creature was discovered by two nurses in the town of Kitchenuhmaykoosib in Ontario, Canada, while out on a walk with their dog.
When the dog began sniffing in the lake, the two women started investigating before the dog pulled the dead animal out.
After taking some photographs of the odd animal, the nurses left it alone. When locals decided to go back and retrieve the body, it has disappeared.
The lake has been dragged, but the creature wasn't found.
There has been much speculation about what kind of species the animal is. The body of the creature appears to look something like an otter, while its face - complete with long fang-like teeth, bears a striking resemblance to a boar-like animal.
Even the local police chief Donny Morris is baffled, reportedly saying: "What it is, I don't know. I'm just as curious as everyone else."
Some bloggers have speculated that the new creature discovered is a type of chupacabra, or "goatsucker".
The chupacabra is rumoured to inhabit parts of the US, with many several hundred eyewitness accounts over the past few years. But despite these sightings, the majority of biologists and wildlife experts believe the chupacabra is a modern legend.
A HUMAN body has washed ashore on New York's tiny Plum Island, where a US government lab studies dangerous animal diseases.
Police say a security guard discovered the clothed body Thursday afternoon on the island's southwest beach area where access is restricted.
Police on Long Island say an autopsy found no immediate cause of death but determined the partially decomposed body was that of a black male about 6 feet tall with a large build and very long fingers. They say there were no obvious signs of trauma.
Plum Island is about 100 miles northeast of New York City in the Long Island Sound. It has been called a potential target for terrorists because of its stock of vaccines and diseases, such as African swine fever.
Tea-leaf reader sees a digital future for the ancient practice RACHEL OLDING July 9, 2010
A screenshot from the Tea Reading app.
The invention of the tea bag almost killed the art of tea-leaf reading but the internet is giving it new life.
Determined not to let the rare method of fortune telling die, Lindel Barker-Revell has reached out to the digital generation.
The Sydney tea-leaf reader has created an iPhone application for virtual tea-leaf reading. Users turn their virtual tea cup around and tap on it three times before Ms Barker-Revell reveals a computer-generated leaf pattern and explains its meaning.
''It's an ancient art and really on the brink of extinction,'' Ms Barker-Revell, 61, said. ''I'm old but I've always wanted to embrace the young and I love to teach people how to do it themselves. Anyone can do it, it's a case of practice makes perfect.''
She hopes the digital application will allow tea-leaf reading to spread to people in many countries and to ''people far away who need solace and a bit of guidance''. The app has been translated into Spanish and Japanese and its next edition will include Chinese, French and German.
Tea-leaf reading is the study and interpretation of the tea leaves left in the bottom of a cup of tea. Distinguishing outlines and images reflect messages about life and the future.
Ms Barker-Revell, who believes she is one of the few tea-leaf readers left in Australia, has been reading leaves for more than 30 years after being taught the ancient art by a friend.
''Loose-leaf tea is making a comeback,'' she said, citing the growing popularity of boutique tea brands.
''Young women especially love it because they enjoy high tea and ritual of making tea. It's a nice ritual because you sit together and drink the tea and then have the wisdom at the end of it.''
The new Nessie? Mystery 'sea creature' spotted off British coast
By Daily Mail Reporter Last updated at 12:40 AM on 31st July 2010
Cynics may dismiss it as just a piece of driftwood or a trick of the light.
But a photograph showing what appears to be a long-necked sea creature has got marine experts scratching their heads.
The 'animal' was snapped stalking a shoal of fish just 30 yards off the British coast.
Mystery: The 'sea serpent' was spotted stalking a shoal of fish just yards off the Saltern Cove in Paignton, Devon. The fish were apparently so scared that they beached themselves
The fish were apparently so terrified they beached themselves just seconds later.
The creature was spotted off the Devon coast at Saltern Cove, Paignton, by locals who reported a sighting of what they thought was a turtle.
But pictures taken by one of the baffled witnesses, Gill Pearce, reveal the neck of the greenish-brown beast with the reptile-like head is far too long for it to be a turtle.
Mrs Pearce, who took the photo on July 27, reported her sighting to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) where it was studied by sea life experts.
Claire Fischer from the MCS said: 'Gill Pearce spotted the creature about 20 metres from the bay at Saltern Cove, near Goodrington.
'It was observed at about 15.30 on 27 July but by the time she had got her camera it had moved further out.
'She spotted it following a shoal of fish which beached themselves in Saltern Cove.
'The creature remained in the sea, then went out again and followed the shoal - this indicates it's not a turtle as they only eat jellyfish.
'We would love to know if other people have seen anything like this in the same area and can help clear up the mystery.'
In the deep: The 'animal' was at first dismissed as a sea turtle but experts say its long neck and reptile-like head - as well as the fact it was chasing fish - contradict this theory
Some people think the sea sighting could be linked to that of a sperm whale sighted off south Devon recently but Miss Fischer dismissed that explanation.
'They [sperm whales] wouldn't come that close inshore and the reptilian-like head counts that out - at least that's what the experts are saying.'
The sighting has caused a stir on the MCS website too, where theories range from sea serpent to salt water crocodile.
An MCS spokesman said: 'It was reported as a turtle as it had large front flippers and small back flippers and what appeared to be a shell but was also said to have a small head on a thin neck about two-feet long which craned above the surface like a Plesiosaur.
Sighting: The mysterious creature was spotted in waters off Saltern Cove, near Paington
'No sea turtles do that with their heads and we do not know of similarly described freshwater turtles that grow so big.
'It's described as being as long as a sea lion with a long neck which floated at the same height in the water all the time.
'This is not a fake. The problem is the distance and clarity from which the photos were taken.
'The lady thought it may have been a turtle - but turtles don't chase fish.
'So at the moment it is "unidentified" - the person who reported it has trawled the internet and says the closest ID fit is a giant green sea turtle - but the description of the head doesn't add up.'
The organisation is now asking for people to keep a keen watch on the seas off South Devon and have appealed for more photos to be taken.
A spokesman said: 'If you live or are visiting down near Saltern Cove Goodrington, near Paignton please keep your eyes on the sea and let us know if you see anything - and keep your camera by your side just in case.'
Friday the 13th Superstitions Rooted in Bible and More
This year Friday the 13th superstitions get a break—luckily for triskaidekaphobes.
The Last Supper, after restoration. Legendary traitor Judas (fourth from left) is said to have been the 13th guest at Jesus' Last Supper.
Painting by Leonardo da Vinci via Getty Images
for National Geographic News
Updated August 13, 2010
They date back to at least ancient Roman times, but Friday the 13th superstitions won't be getting much of a workout this year. Luckily for triskaidekaphobia sufferers, today is 2010's only Friday the 13th.
That must come as a relief, after 2009's nine Friday the 13ths—the maximum possible in a year, at least as long as we continue to mark time with the Gregorian calendar, which Pope Gregory XIII ordered the Catholic Church to adopt in 1582.
"You can't have any [years] with none, and you can't have any with four, because of our funny calendar," said Underwood Dudley, a professor emeritus of mathematics at DePauw University in Indiana, and author of Numerology: Or, What Pythagoras Wrought.
The calendar works just as its predecessor, the Julian calendar, did, with a leap year every four years. But the Gregorian calendar skips leap year on century years except those divisible by 400. For example, there was no leap year in 1900, but there was one in 2000. This trick keeps the calendar in tune with the seasons.
The result is an ordering of days and dates that repeats itself every 400 years, Dudley noted. As time marches through the order, some years appear with three Friday the 13ths. Other years have two or, like 2010, one.
Curious Calendar Encourages Friday the 13th Superstitions
"It's just that curious way our calendar is constructed, with 28 days in February and all those 30s and 31s," Dudley said.
When the 400-year order is laid out, another revelation occurs: The 13th falls on Friday more often than any other day of the week. "It's just a funny coincidence," Dudley said.
Richard Beveridge, a mathematics instructor at Clatsop Community College in Oregon, authored a 2003 paper in the journal Mathematical Connections on the mathematics of Friday the 13th.
He noted the 400-year cycle is further broken down into periods of either 28 or 40 years.
"At the end of every cycle you get a year with three Friday the 13ths the year before the last year in the cycle … and you also get one on the tenth year of all the cycles," he said.
2009, for example, was the tenth year of the cycle that started in 2000.
Friday the 13th Superstitions Linked to Triskaidekaphobia
Friday the 13th superstitions are rooted in ancient bad-luck associations with the number 13 and the day Friday, said Donald Dossey, a folklore historian and author of Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun.
The two unlucky entities ultimately combined to make one super unlucky day.
Dossey traces the fear of the number 13—aka, triskaidekaphobia—to a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla, Norse mythology's heaven. In walked the uninvited 13th guest, the mischievous god Loki. Once there, Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow.
"Balder died, and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day," Dossey said.
There is also a biblical reference to the unlucky number 13. Judas, the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper.
As for Friday, it's well known among Christians as the day Jesus was crucified. Some biblical scholars believe Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit on Friday. Perhaps most significant is a belief that Abel was slain by his brother Cain on Friday the 13th.
Meanwhile, in ancient Rome, witches reportedly gathered in groups of 12. The 13th was believed to be the devil.
In modern times, many triskaidekaphobes point to the ill-fated mission to the moon, Apollo 13.
Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist in the Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center at the University of Delaware in Newark, said the number 13 suffers because of its position after 12.
According to Fernsler, numerologists consider 12 a "complete" number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus.
In exceeding 12 by 1, Fernsler said 13's association with bad luck "has to do with just being a little beyond completeness. The number becomes restless or squirmy"—not unlike some folks with triskaidekaphobia today.
Paralyzed by Friday the 13th Superstitions
Some people are so paralyzed by Friday the 13th superstitions that they refuse to fly, buy a house, or act on a hot stock tip, for example.
"It's been estimated that [U.S] $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they would normally do," said Dossey, the historian, who is also the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina.
Among other services, Dossey's organization counsels clients on how to Friday the 13th superstitions, which fuel a phobia that he estimates afflicts 17 to 21 million people in the United States.
Symptoms range from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks. The latter may cause people to reshuffle schedules or miss an entire day's work.
When it comes to bad luck of any kind, Richard Wiseman—a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, England—found that people who consider themselves unfortunate are more likely to believe in superstitions associated with bad luck.
"Their beliefs and behavior are likely to be part of a much bigger worldview," he said. "They will believe that luck is a magical force and that it can ruin their lives."
Triskaidekaphobia'as Architectural Effects
Triskaidekaphobia can even be seen in how societies are built. More than 80 percent of high-rise buildings lack a 13th floor. Many airports skip the 13th gate. Hospitals and hotels regularly have no room number 13.
On streets in Florence, Italy, the house between number 12 and 14 is addressed as 12 1/2. In France socialites known as the quatorziens ("fourteeners") once made themselves available as 14th guests to keep a dinner party from an unlucky fate.
DePauw University's Dudley said nobody really knows why Friday the 13th has spawned so many superstitions.
"You've got to have something that is unlucky, and somehow they hit on 13," he said. "But all these explanations are just moonshine."
A British archivist believes he has uncovered the real-life inspiration for French novelist Victor Hugo's mysterious character Quasimodo, the deformed bellringer of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
Adrian Glew, who works on the Tate collection's archives in London, was studying the seven-volume handwritten autobiography of 19th century British sculptor Henry Sibson when he came across a reference to a Frenchman whose nickname was "le bossu", or "hunchback".
Sibson had been employed in the 1820s to carve stone as part of the renovation of Notre Dame, which had suffered damage during the French Revolution in the 1790s.
But he fell out with one of his contractors and applied for another job at the government studios where he met a carver called Trajan.
According to Sibson, Trajan was a "most worthy, fatherly and amiable man as ever existed - he was the carver under the government sculptor whose name I forget as I had no intercourse with him. All that I know is that he was humpbacked and he did not like to mix with carvers."
Mr Glew immediately thought he was on to something.
"It was almost like peering into Tutankhamun's tomb and you see a glimpse of something that attracts your eye," he said.
He noted that Sibson was describing French artisans active in the same part of Paris where Hugo lived in the 1820s and, with his interest in the restoration of Notre Dame, the writer may have seen and even known Trajan and his hunchbacked boss.
"And also, Hugo proposed to his wife-to-be in Dreux, at a time when the team of sculptors and carvers were working there," he added.
Sibson was part of the team who went to Dreux, a town near Paris, which included both Trajan and M Le Bossu, "a nickname given to him and I scarcely ever heard any other.
"M Le Bossu was pleased to tell M Trajan that he must be sure to take the little Englishman."
Further supporting his theory, Mr Glew added, was the fact that the Almanach de Paris of 1833 listed all professional inhabitants in the area and included the carver Trajan.
That indicated he continued to work there during the period when Hugo wrote his famous novel (1828-1831). And in an early version of Hugo's Les Miserables, the main character is Jean Trajean, a name Hugo later altered to Jean Valjean.
Mr Glew has yet to discover Le Bossu's real name.
"It is tantalising that we don't know what he was called," he said. "I'm still researching that."
Severed foot washes up on Pacific NW Coast, eighth since 2008
* From: NewsCore * August 29, 2010 3:55AM
POLICE in Washington State were investigatingy the eighth human foot in two-and-a-half years to have washed ashore along the stretch of waterway between Vancouver and Seattle.
The severed foot - stripped of all skin with only muscle and tendon remaining -=- was found pm Friday morning by a person walking along a beach on Whidbey Island, 48 kilometres north of Seattle, police told local news channel KOMO-TV.
Investigators claim that the foot was likely in the water for less than two months, and judging by its size, probably belonged to a woman or a child.
Since Island County does not have an open missing person case, deputies are expanding the investigation to include outside agencies, and a DNA profile is pending, KOMO-TV reported.
The foot was the eighth found in the coastal waterway since early 2008, but unlike the others - which were all found in tennis shoes - this one was bare.
The other seven feet have washed up in locations ranging from Port Angeles, Washington, to Kirkland Island at the mouth of the Fraser River, which runs through Vancouver.
Police apparently were only able to make a connection between two of the feet, which were both encased in women’s New Balance running shoes and found six months apart.
Investigators eventually discovered the identity of the woman but have had little luck with the other cases.
Besides the one left foot in the matching pair, all others found were right feet.
A Seattle oceanographer, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, told KOMO-TV that arms, legs, hands, feet and the head often separate from the body when it is submerged in the ocean for a long period of time.
His theory is that the feet washed down and spread out along the Strait of Georgia from an accident that might have happened along the Fraser River.
Ninth human foot washes ashore in the Pacific Northwest
By Emily Jackson, Vancouver Sun August 27, 2010
A human foot washed up on a Washington State island Friday morning, raising the tally of feet found on beaches in the Pacific Northwest since 2007 to a total of nine. Photograph by: Screen grab, Bing maps
VANCOUVER — A human foot washed up on a Washington State island Friday morning, raising the tally of feet found on beaches in the Pacific Northwest since 2007 to a total of nine.
A tourist found the foot while walking along a beach on the east side of Whidbey Island around 11:15 a.m., said Island County Detective Ed Wallace.
“It's a right foot,” Wallace said. “Based on the size, it's either a female or a juvenile.”
Based on the decomposition of the foot, officials estimated it has been in the water for less than two months. There are no missing persons cases in the county that match the foot, Wallace said. They will reach out to surrounding areas to try to match the foot with a missing persons case, he added.
The foot was not wearing a sock or a shoe, he added.
“It was just a foot.”
A forensic pathologist has been called in to do a DNA test on the foot, he said. The race or the age of the person the foot belonged to has yet to be determined.
“We're at the very beginning stages of this right now,” he said.
This is the first foot to wash up on Whidbey Island.
“We've had complete bodies wash up before, but this is the first time we've had just a foot,” Wallace said.
This is the ninth severed human foot found on the B.C.-Washington coast since 2007.
All of the others were in running shoes.
The last one was a right foot found inside a Nike running shoe on a beach in Richmond in October 2009.
The first severed foot, discovered in August 2007, was associated with a deceased man whose name police withheld at the request of his family. A man's right foot found on Gabriola Island in August 2007 remains unidentified. Two feet found on Valdez and Westham islands in July 2008 belonged to the same man. And two female feet found in Richmond in December 2008 belonged to the same woman.
The RCMP have said the feet in B.C. separated from the body through a natural process.
Timeline of found feet. All but two of the feet were found in British Columbia:
• The first foot was found on Aug. 20, 2007, on Jedediah Island, northeast of Nanaimo. The right, male foot was in a Campus shoe, size 12, that is available for sale primarily in India. It was linked to a depressed man who went missing in early 2007.
• The second foot was found on Aug. 26, 2007, on Gabriola Island. The right, male foot was in a Reebok, size 12. The brand was first produced in 2004 and is no longer for sale.
• The third foot was found on Feb. 8, 2008 on Valdes Island. The right, male foot was in a blue and white Nike, size 11. The model was made between February and June 2003.
• The fourth foot was found on May 22, 2008, on Kirkland Island at the mouth of the Fraser River. The right, female foot was in a size 7 New Balance shoe. The model was made beginning in June 1999.
• The fifth foot was found on June 16, 2008, on Westham Island at the mouth of the Fraser River. The left, male foot had DNA matched with the third foot found on Valdes, but the man’s identity is unknown.
• The sixth foot was found Aug. 1, 2008, near Pysht west of Port Angeles, Wash. The right, male foot was in a men's low-rise, dark hiking-type athletic shoe, made by the Everest Shoe Co., size 11 or 12.
• The seventh foot was found Nov. 11, 2008, on a Fraser River beach in Richmond. The left, female foot had DNA matched with the fourth foot, found on Kirkland Island, and the woman was identified.
• The eighth foot was found in Richmond on Oct. 27, 2009. It was a man's right foot.
• The ninth foot was found Aug. 27, 2010, on Whitby Island in Washington State. The right, bare foot likely belongs to a woman or child, officials said.
Computer model shows how the Red Sea may have parted for Moses
* By Helen Davidson * From: No Source * September 22, 2010 11:07AM
COMPUTER modelling has explained how the Red Sea parted for Moses and the Israelites escaping from the Pharoah.
The story, told in biblical writings and in the Koran, describes an east wind blowing the water apart, leaving a dry tract of land for the group to flee across.
When the Pharoah's army tries to follow, the walls of water rush back and drown the soldiers.
While this sounds like fantasy, an American research team at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado at Boulder has created a computer simulation model to show that given the right circumstances, it is possible that the waters did indeed part for Moses.
The computer simulations, part of a greater study on how wind affects water, have shown that with a strong east wind blowing overnight at a bend where a river merges with a lagoon, the waters would be pushed back, exposing a land bridge for a short time.
It is due to a phenomenon known as a "wind setdown" where a strong and persistent wind can push a body of water and "pile it up" downwind.
Carl Drew who led the study, says in a video that this phenomenon is well-known, but to re-enact the biblical story, "the tricky part is to get water on both sides of the crossing".
They found that at a point where a river bends to merge with a coastal lagoon, the water "splits at the point of the bend".
"So there's water on both sides and a bunch of refugees can come walking or running across," he said.
Such a place occurred in the ancient Eastern Nile Delta.
Mr Drews and CU oceanographer Weiqing Han analysed archaeological records, satellite measurements and maps and applied the data to ancient topography of an area of the Nile Delta which they believed provided both the right geographical conditions and a plausible site for the Bible story.
Mr Drews told news.com.au that he ran 14 simulation experiments. "They tested various configurations of the geography and the wind (direction and speed). The short answer is that the crossing has some tolerance to variations, but not a whole lot. It's a rare event."
They found that if the wind blows for 12 hours at 63 miles per hour (just over 101km/h) it would push back nearly two metres of deep water.
This would expose mud flats for four hours, creating a safe passage for Moses and the Israelites.
This in turn would push the water into the lake and the channel of the river, creating the two walls of water.
When asked, Mr Drews said he had not had any reactions from church groups as yet. "The overwhelming reaction is that people are fascinated that a 3,000-year-old story, one they've heard about and seen in movies, has a real scientific basis in physical laws."
'Hobbit' Was an Iodine-Deficient Human, Not Another Species, New Study Suggests
Multivariate analyses of quantitative features of Homo floresiensis in relation to cretins, unaffected humans and chimpanzees. Individuals are represented for each specimen by the coloured symbols above: H. floresiensis (LB), young adult cretins (Y cretin), older cretins (O cretin), H. sapiens, and P. troglodytes (Pan). Vectors are shown for each variable analyzed in the study. The direction of each vector indicates the association with each axis and the length indicates the strength of the association. (Credit: Charles Oxnard, Peter J. Obendorf, Ben J. Kefford. Post-Cranial Skeletons of Hypothyroid Cretins Show a Similar Anatomical Mosaic as Homo floresiensis. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (9): e13018 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013018)
ScienceDaily (Sep. 28, 2010) — A new paper is set to re-ignite debate over the origins of so-called Homo floresiensis -- the 'hobbit' that some scientists have claimed as a new species of human.
The University of Western Australia's Emeritus Professor Charles Oxnard and his colleagues, in a paper in PLoS ONE have reconfirmed, on the post-cranial skeleton, their original finding on the skull that Homo floresiensis in fact bears the hallmarks of humans -- Homo sapiens -- affected by hypothyroid cretinism.
The remains, allegedly as recent as 15,000 years, were discovered in 2003 in the Liang Bua caves on the Indonesian island of Flores by archaeologists seeking evidence of the first human migration from Asia to Australia.
When Professor Oxnard and fellow Australian researchers suggested in a 2008 paper that the skull showed evidence of endemic dwarf cretinism resulting from congenital hypothyroidism and were not a new species of human, their claim caused controversy.
In order to test their thesis, in their new paper Professor Oxnard and his team summarised data on the rest of the skeleton and mathematically compared the bones of cretins in relation to chimpanzees, unaffected humans and H. floresiensis. They used two methods with different statistical bases: principal components analyses (PCA) and non-metric multi-dimensional scaling (MDS).
Their work confirms the close grouping of H. floresiensis with the hypothyroid cretins, and the clear separation from both modern humans and from chimpanzees. This leads them to conclude that the Liang Bua remains were indeed most likely cretins from a population of unaffected H. sapiens. They have, further, provided a series of predictions for the further testing of the cretin hypothesis.
"This is consistent with recent hypothyroid endemic cretinism throughout Indonesia, including the nearby island of Bali," Professor Oxnard said.
"Cretinism is caused by various environmental factors including iodine deficiency -- a deficiency which would have been present on Flores at the period to which the dwarfed Flores fossils are dated."
Professor Oxnard has received the Charles R. Darwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in Physical Anthropology; was honoured as the dedicatee on a book Shaping Primate Evolution, Cambridge University Press; and was awarded the Chancellor's Medal of The University of Western Australia.
His co-authors in his most recent paper are Professor Peter Obendorf, School of Applied Sciences, RMIT University, Melbourne; and Professor Ben Kefford, Centre for Environmental Sustainability, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Technology Sydney.
The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Western Australia.
1. Charles Oxnard, Peter J. Obendorf, Ben J. Kefford. Post-Cranial Skeletons of Hypothyroid Cretins Show a Similar Anatomical Mosaic as Homo floresiensis. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (9): e13018 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013018