Tiny Tall Tales
A Japanese scientist named Chonosuke Okamura examined rocks under a microscope and discovered that modern living creatures come from tiny organisms that are similar to the ones we see today. He named these extinct ancestral species "mini-creatures." Okamura was a paleontologist who specialized in fossils of invertebrates and algae from the Ordovician period to the Tertiary period. He published a series of dull reports until the release of his "Original Report of the Okamura Fossil Laboratory, number XIII," which contained pictures of a perfectly preserved fossil duck dating back to the Silurian strata of the Kitagami mountain range. The specimen was only 9.2mm long.
Following the publication, Okamura included fascinating photos of fossilized mini-creatures, each accompanied by explanatory diagrams and intriguing descriptions in Japanese and English. In his reports, Okamura talked about mini-fishes, mini-reptiles, mini-amphibians, mini-birds, mini-mammals, and mini-plants, with some species being less than a centimetre in length. Some of these mini-creatures were subspecies of modern organisms that we know today, such as the mini-gorilla, mini-camel, and mini-dog.
Okamura’s most notable discovery was the mini-man, Homo sapiens miniorientalis. He meticulously described the earliest ancestors of humans, including their bone structures. Okamura also gave us glimpses of their lives, as seen from their fossils. Of one fossil, he wrote: "Two naked homos, facing each other are moving their hands and feet harmoniously. We can only think of dancing in a present-day style."
For his efforts in discovering the tiny clues from the past, Okamura was awarded the 1996 Ig Nobel Prize in the field of biodiversity. The Okamura Fossil Laboratory has not produced any further work since 1987, and Okamura himself seems to have retired.
I learned about Okamura from Earle Spamer, an Academy of Natural Sciences scholar. This information is based on Spamer’s writing, and he found the books discarded from a university library that did not acknowledge their rare value.
During National Science Week, I will be doing public talks in ten cities, joined by other Ig Nobel Prize winners. For the schedule, visit www.improbable.com.
Marc Abrahams, editor of the magazine Annals of Improbable Research and Ig Nobel Prize organizer, wrote this.