Preview: A New Human

Homo floresiensis skull (American Museum of Natural History)

Homo floresiensis skull (American Museum of Natural History)

Arrival to the island of Flores, on the fabled Wallace line, in the Lesser Sunda group of Indonesia, as related by Mike Morwood in his work (co-authored by Penny van Oosterzee) A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the ‘Hobbits’ of Flores, Indonesia – a preview of our upcoming review:

“Having got our permits, we flew from Kupang to Ende on the central south coast of Flores, a small town surrounded by steep, rugged volcanic hills. The island, at 13,500 square kilometers, is the largest in the Nusa Tenggara, of Lesser Sunda, chain of islands that comprises dozens of volcanic and coral-reef islands strewn across the world’s deepest seas, which plunge down seven kilometers. It is characterized by rugged volcanic mountains up to 2,400 meters high, deep canyons and gravel plains. The main range runs east-west the length of the island and sheds water to the north and south coasts.

“On Flores you’re invariably walking on shaky ground because your feet are planted directly over the greatest tectonic collision zone on Earth. The Indonesian archipelago, with its chain of volcanic cauldrons spread over 3,000 kilometers, is itself the surface expression of the collision between the Indian-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates. The thinner oceanic Australian plate, moving northward at around eight centimeters a year, plunges steeply beneath the lighter continental Eurasian plate. The australian plate doesn’t slide smoothly underneath the Asian plate; instead it moves in jolts, buckling and carrying bits of Asia with it. These jolts are felt as earthquakes, which occur from near the surface, where the Australian plate begins its descent, to depths of 700 kilometers, where the plate is caught up in the slowly moving molten material of Earth’s mantle.

“As a result, Indonesia is a world leader in volcano statistics. At 76, it has the largest number of historically active volcanoes, with at least 132 active during the last 10,000 years. Indonesia’s total of around 1,200 dated eruptions is only narrowly exceeded by Japan’s of almost 1,300. The archipelago also has suffered the highest number of fatalities caused by eruptions and the accompanying mudflows, tsunamis, giant upwelling mounds of lava, known as domes, and pyroclastic flows. The devastating effects of recent eruptions, such as Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java in 1883 and Tambora on Sumbawa in 1815, are well documented, but we can only infer what impacts earlier events had on human populations. The Toba eruption on Sumatra 74,000 years ago, for instance, was more than a hundred times bigger than the historic Krakatoa eruption, and put so much ash into the atmosphere that it resulted in a worldwide temperature decrease that lasted five years. Indonesia is a land of global-scale fireworks, and the island of Flores has seen more than its fair share.”

[For further information on Krakatoa, see our review of Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa and our follow-up post concerning Anak Krakatoa. For additional information on volcanoes, see Robert I. Tilling’s brochure Volcanoes at the US Geological Survey website, or the USGS World Map of Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Impact Craters, and Plate Tectonics.]

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 1:00 am  Comments (1)