It's not often that producers try to nail the movie rights to a scientific paper, but the report in this week's edition of the journal Nature about a newly discovered race of little people who lived on a remote island as recently as 12,000 years ago would make for a great pitch.
They're "The Flintstones" meets "South Pacific." One reason the former was so funny was that it mocked the notion that only modern man was smart enough for technological innovation -- the Flintstones had dishwashers powered by mammoths, and prehistoric birds stood in for phonograph needles.
The Nature study underscores the fact that Homo sapiens aren't the only toolmakers. It shows that even though the miniature people living on Flores, an island 370 miles east of Bali, had brains smaller than those of chimpanzees, they still managed to roast elephants, build rafts and craft complex stone tools.
Barely 3 feet tall, the Floresians were smaller than Sam, Frodo and Bilbo. Like those Hobbits, they made up in bravery what they lacked in stature, literally slaying dragons -- carnivorous lizards up to 10 feet long that had migrated from the nearby island of Komodo. But they lived on a tropical island that focus groups will surely find more appealing than the downer hellscape of Mordor.
In a commentary published in Nature, University of Cambridge anthropologist Robert Foley went out of his way to inveigh against the folly of assuming that the Floresians behaved like happy-go-lucky little people, but surely producers could get away with claiming their tale was "based on a true story."
It's "Jurassic Park" with better scientific evidence. The island of Flores, as depicted by the Nature authors, is a breeding ground for the sort of extraordinary, Michael Crichton-esque spectacles that can occur when gene pools mutate in isolated environments. On Flores, creatures tended to become extreme versions of their mainland relatives, either giants like the Komodo dragons or miniatures like the Floresians.
They're ... well, you get the drift. The point is, they may seem small, but they'll be big. Really big.