Saturday, 24 September 2016

Islands again

Some years ago I posted here about islands; it must have been quite a while ago, as it was occasioned by a visit to an Open Day at Silchester, and they have been a thing of the past for a year or two (maybe three – time gets quicker at a certain age, in an ironic reversal of an arrow [which gets slower and slower, having no doubt heard about Xeno). But I've been thinking about islands again  – in the context of elephants and Cyclops.

Somewhere on Radio 4 last week a woman spoke about dwarf elephants (and iPlayer's indexing algorithm isn't good enough to remind me of who she was).
Dwarf elephants are prehistoric members of the order Proboscidea which, through the process of allopatric speciation on islands, evolved much smaller body sizes (around 1.5-2.3 metres) in comparison with their immediate ancestors. Dwarf elephants are an example of insular dwarfism,...
Also sprach Wikipedia.

But the woman on the radio didn't mention Cyclops – a strange omission, given that the "fact" (some doubt there, I suspect?) is so succulent. Perhaps she didn't mention it because she has an academic haughtiness about the story. But Wikipedia had no such fastidiousness: has been suggested by the palaeontologist Othenio Abel in 1914,[3] that the finding of skeletons of such elephants sparked the idea that they belonged to giant cyclopses, because the center nasal opening was thought to be a cyclopic eye socket.
A studio guest asked why dwarfism happened on islands. I'm sorry to have to be so reliant on Wikipedia, but iPlayer has let me down::
...large terrestrial vertebrates (usually mammals) that colonize islands evolve dwarf forms, a phenomenon attributed to adaptation to resource-poor environments and selection for early maturation and reproduction.
... Not that "large". In 2003 a fossil was found on the island Flores. Homo Floresiensis, was known by some more fevered journalists as 'the hobbit'.
In the late '80s or early '90s, with Reading Haydn Choir, I sang Stanford's The Revenge, a Ballad of the Fleet. The libretto,  was written by Alfred Lord Tennyson  (the hosts of that wiki – IMSLP  – are presumably politically hostile to all that lickspittle bowing and scraping, as they call him plain "Alfred Tennyson"; I've referred to this strenuous egalitarianism before, in connection with the word titled [see the rant in red here].)

But the opening words of that piece are "In Flores, in the Açores" (which leads me to suspect that Tennyson didn't know much about pronouncing Portuguese, FWIW), and I remember, when Homo Floresiensis was discovered in 2003, wondering if it was the same Flores. (It's not. BTW  – unless HMS Revenge was fighting off the coast of Indonesia. :-) )
In a later Reading Haydn Choir concert I sang Handel's Acis and Galatea, with the Cyclops Polyphemus represented by a very agile bass. [Keep up. keep up; I mentioned Cyclops a while back.]
Homo Floresiensis is thought by some experts (I haven't kept abreast of all the arguments, though I think there are several theories [with one having Homo Floresiensis descended from an as yet undiscovered small ape]) to have been a descendant of Homo Erectus subjected to insular dwarfism.

Ho hum time for bed.

 PS And here's a clue:

Thus might Spooner keep the con-artist apart from the aviatrix, we hear. (8,3,5,4,3,5)

Update 2016.09.25.15:05 – Added PPS

PPS And another:

Bad-mouth trendy food shop first, with malice aforethought. (10)

Update 2016.10.25.16:25 – Added PPPS


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