Pygmy PeopleMarch 20, 2011
Pygmy is a term used for various ethnic groups whose average height is less than 150 cm (4 feet 11 inches). The best known pygmies are the Mbuti of Central Africa. There are also pygmies in Asia, Australia and South America. Especially interesting are the Rampasasa of the island of Flores in Indonesia, because of their predecessor Homo Floresiensis.
Various theories have been proposed to explain the short stature of pygmies. One explanation points to the low ultraviolet light levels in rainforests. This might mean that relatively little vitamin D can be made in human skin, thereby limiting calcium uptake from the diet for bone growth and maintenance, and leading to the evolution of the small skeletal size characteristic of pygmies. Other explanations include lack of food in the rainforest environment, low calcium levels in the soil, the need to move through dense jungle, adaptation to heat and humidity, and most recently, as an association with rapid reproductive maturation under conditions of early mortality. A recent study has suggested that growth is held back by smaller amounts of IGF (Insulin-like Growth Factor) during adolescence. Other evidence points towards a mutation in the IGF1 receptor causing short stature. A cause that seems similar to the small size of the Dwarfs of Sindh.
If we are to shrink, Pygmies could teach us how to deal with some of the challenges of smaller size, e.g. our relationship with nature and wildlife.