Faeries. Just story book characters or is there something really there?
(Photo of an unknown being at St. Madron's Well, Cornwall, England. Photo by Brenna Varner)
Faery lore around the world is remarkable for its uniformity between countries, cultures and times. But what are the reasons for this? Are these stories just that—stories? Are they tales passed down from generation to generation to explain the unknown or to persuade children to behave in certain ways? Or are they something else? “What is remarkable about fairy belief”, wrote Marc Alexander, “is that it survived so vigorously for so long, especially as it had no organized structure to support it, unlike orthodox beliefs. It outlasted other aspects of folklore, and when witches ceased to be feared fairies were still respected.” (1)
In 2004 a remarkable discovery was made which may shed light on this perplexing question. On the isolated Indonesian island of Flores a cave yielded the remains of half a dozen “little people”—described as Hobbit-sized (or, more accurately only ½ the size of modern humans, adults weighing approximately 55 pounds) that had existed on the island for some 95,000 years. It is possible for 30,000 of those years they may have occupied the area alongside Homo sapiens—modern humans. Chief paleontologist Teuku Jacob, of the University of Gajah Mada believes that these people are, in reality, a sub-species of modern man and that the small skull is suggestive of “mental defects” (2) rather than as an indication of a separate species of human. More recent research indicates that Jacob is incorrect and that a race, or species, of human beings with a sophisticated technology and social structure and complex mental abilities survived for thousands of years. (3) Irregardless of whose theory is correct the fact that these small people probably lived an autonomous existence alongside their bigger human brothers and sisters gives credence to the theory that they may be responsible for many of the fairy stories around the world—suggestive in fact that similar groups, existed on other continents. Another scientist, Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongon in Australia, said “the new skeleton sounded remarkably similar to the Ebu Gogo, strange hairy little people that legend says lived on Flores”. (4) The cave also yielded skeletal remains of pygmy elephant and komodo dragons. These little people had amazingly small brains but were as intelligent as their larger cousins. They made fire, stone weapons and hunted in groups. Due to the fact that the island was never connected to the mainland, they evidently also mastered water travel in rafts or small boats.
Geological records indicate that this group of humans may have been eradicated around 11-12,000 years ago when a massive volcano erupted on the island. Evidently, other archaeological discoveries show that the next group of modern humans to arrive on the island showed up around 11,000 years ago or 1,000 years after the volcanic eruption. However, island folklore tells a different story. According to Bert Roberts, an anthropologist with the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, “The stories suggest that there may be more than a grain of truth to the idea that they were still living on Flores up until the Dutch arrived in the 1500’s. The stories suggest they lived in caves. The villagers would leave gourds with food out for them to eat, but legend has it these were the guests from hell—they’d eat everything, including the gourds!” (5)
Representatives of the Indonesian Archaeologists Association believe that the group of skeletal remains proves that ancient humans, in many forms, migrated around the world. (6)
This discovery has all of the elements of traditional Faery lore. These people are exceptionally small (and not related to contemporary pygmy tribes of Africa), lived in caves, hunted and fought with dragons and received propitiations from the local residents who regarded them with fear and gave them supernatural characteristics. They also co-existed with “modern man” perhaps as recently as 200-500 years ago. Such co-existence may have resulted in a universal application of the Faery lore we have today—in fact, it may be that this race of humans co-existed with modern man throughout the world. The mystery surrounding the Faery probably arose due to the infrequent meetings of the Little People and modern humans and these chance encounters left a lasting impression that has remained etched in the human psyche. Even more likely is the real possibility that this race of little people had developed rituals, traditions and other systems of living that were entirely alien to the local “modern man” residents, which added to the stories of their strange and wonderful existence.
The fact that almost all Faery-lore describes the same creatures with the same characteristics, likes and dislikes as well as powers and failures gives credence that some of these beings existed in enough numbers around the world to perpetuate the tales.
Approximately 150,000 years ago the human race had one distinct language. It is perhaps due to this uniqueness of language at the time that universal “myths” arose around the world. “Myths”, or perhaps tales of a distinct race of mysterious people, with small stature, unusual gifts, rituals and traditions. A group of people that, like humans today, were regarded as benevolent and kind, or malicious and deadly in their cruelty.
As writer Mike Morwood with the National Geographic said, “It’s breathtaking to think that modern humans may still have a folk memory of sharing the planet with another species of human, like us but unfathomably different.” (7)
1. Alexander, Marc. A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited 2002, 91
2. Santoso, Dewi and M. Taufiqurrahman. “Archaeologists divided over ‘Homo floresiensis” in The Jakarta Post, October 30, 2004
3. Morwood, Mike & et al. “The People Time Forgot” in National Geographic, April 2005, 12
4. Santoso, op cit.
5. Onion, Amanda. “Scientists Find Ancient Hobbit-Sized People”. ABC News October 27, 2004. www.abcnews.go.Technology
6. Santoso, op cit.
7. Morwood, op cit.