Fifty thousand years ago or so, there were multiple species of humanoids on planet Earth. There were, of course, biologically modern humans: good old fashioned Homo sapiens sapiens. There were also, we now know, Neanderthals in northern Europe, Denisovans from Siberia to southeast Asia, and, most recently, the “hobbits” (Homo floresiensis) of the island of Flores in Indonesia. Sometimes these various groups traded with one another. Sometimes they fought one another. Occasionally—and the genetic evidence for this continues to mount—at least some of them *ahem* socialized with one another and produced viable offspring.
Some of this complexity is captured in a number of fascinating articles that have appeared recently at io9:
- How Did Neanderthal Genes Affect Humanity? Here Are Some Answers
- A Long Anthropological Debate May B on the Cusp of Resolution
- New Evidence Points to the Flores “Hobbit” as a Dwarf Species
I think the makings are there for a really interesting way to understand and depict the various races one encounters in fantasy fiction. How do these races differ from one another physiologically? What strengths and weaknesses do each possess? In fact, that is exactly how I went about fleshing out the various inhabitants of the Wonder: the true fae, dwarves, trolls, and little folk such as the yunwi tsunsdi.
For cultural/ethical characteristics and magical capabilities, I of course leaned heavily on mythology and folklore. I’m not trying to “explain” dwarves and the rest in anything like a scientific way, after all. But when looking for a bit of extra color, I was very happy to see what paleoanthropologists could tell me about some of humanity’s nearest kin.