On the Biology of Dwarves

 On the Biology of Dwarves

by Konli Galleybolt, 1928


Evolutionary History
Kogan Urvadatîs, lord of Relicwalled (1919)
art by Uncannyknack on Deviantart

Dwarves (fortis fodiens) are believed to have evolved deep below the Earth's surface. All known fossilized remains of dwarven ancestors are from bodies fossilized significantly more recently than other species. Many fossils are found in vast caves and tunnel networks. This suggests that until very recently, all ancestors of modern dwarves lived exclusively underground.

What exactly dwarves evolved from remains a mystery. So far, no mammalian relatives have been found. And if relatives, or fossils of them do exist, they would most likely be found deep in subterranean caverns, where forgotten beasts still lurk to this day. This further complicates the study of dwarven evolution. Features in dwarven skeletons and organ structures suggest that they are not closely related to homo sapiens. It is currently believed instead, that the similarities between humans and dwarves are instead a result of convergent evolution. 

The leading theory on dwarven evolution, as proposed by Kilrud Vaultrope in 1922 is this: Dwarves evolved from an undiscovered order of subterranean mammals with similar features to those of eulipotyphla. This proposed order, praevalida were extremely strong; capable of fashioning raw ores into tools with their bare hands and using these ores to dig tunnel networks. Praevalida lived in vast networks of caves in what is now eastern Europe, until continental drift in that region between 40 and 20 million years ago drove many of them to extinction. 

The survivors migrated to higher caverns which were less severely affected by the earthquakes. Many of these caverns had much higher ceilings than those lower down, worn away over the aeons by the networks of giant fungi that grew in them. These fungi were bioluminescent, and many of the species living in them had eyes, despite their underground environment. In their new environment of mushroom forests, dwarves slowly developed bipedalism to see over the mushrooms and avoid predators on the cave ceilings. In the dim light of the fungi, these protodwarves' sight improved drastically, and they developed the ability to see in color to differentiate edible mushrooms at a distance. 

Dwarven Prehistory
Dwarves, unlike humans, have not been a migratory species for most of their history. They have carved tunnels out of the rock since long before they achieved sapiency. It is possible the oldest dwarf fortresses date back millions of years and are still standing.

 At the time of writing, the oldest known dwarven settlement, discovered in the Odra Gath expedition, is roughly 22 to 28 thousand years old. In the lowest depths of Odra Gath, crude bronze tools were found, meaning that even back then dwarves had some understanding of metallurgy. Of course, because of the infernal end to the Odra Gath expedition, further research is impossible for the time being.

Alcohol and the Dwarven Diet
Odra Gath, by Francis Ebiage, 1923
art by Darkcloud013 on Deviantart
Perhaps the most infamous and insidious trait of dwarvenkind is their high predisposition toward alcoholism. Throughout history, this has been a subject of much prejudice and mockery toward dwarves. And in a more lighter tone, the dwarven datan gúr (iron stomach) is often mentioned in regard to the dwarven resistance to natural poisons or disease. But for all that, very few understand the physiological implications of the dwarven diet and the role of alcohol therein. 

Firstly, a distinction should be made. Not all dwarves have the same level of tolerance for alcohol. Similarly to how some humans are adapted to consume milk while the majority are intolerant to it, some dwarves have a higher alcohol tolerance, while some groups are not much more tolerant to it than humans.

In order to support their exceptionally strong skeletal system, dwarves consume high levels of metals such as iron, cobalt, silver and titanium. These metals are often used as seasonings for dwarven food. Quartz, often in the form of flint is also present in a dwarf's diet. Until recently, the process by which dwarves break down these chemicals in their physiology was poorly understood. But recent research suggests that it may be related to their alcohol consumption. 

The diet of early dwarves is believed to have consisted largely of fungi. Particularly, several species of mushrooms which rapidly ferment upon death, producing alcohol chemicals of extremely high proof. These fungi would have built up the dwarves' natural resistance to alcohol over time. And it is now believed they served a secondary purpose. A large gland located just below a dwarf's stomach processes the alcohol, as well as quartz and iron to generate what has been dubbed "internal microcombustion." 

The alcohol a dwarf consumes is literally burned in the stomach. This process breaks down the heavier metals, allowing them to be easily digested. This, combined with their naturally high blood alcohol content may be responsible for the dwarf's resistance to diseases and poisons. Most natural toxins are rendered inert when they are burned within the dwarf's stomach.

Stonecunning
All dwarves have an instinctual understanding of masonry. From the time they are six months old, dwarven children have been demonstrated to understand the basic principles of subterranean structural integrity. When given a toy pickaxe and rocks, dwarven children will naturally break the rocks and extracting any valuable metals inside before assembling the fragments into rudimentary structures lile arches and towers. This is believed to be important for early childhood brain development.

Jonic Dustcrow in the Battle of Uristzas, 1916
art by Dleoblack on Deviantart
Later in life, even dwarves who do not study masonry can easily recognized flaws and weak spots in caves or stone architecture. Contrary to what many may think, this is not stonecunning.

For some dwarves, the sense of stone goes beyond simple instinct. The complete, utter understanding of stone on every possible level. Its nature and elemental makeup. A sort of genetic memory, growing stronger with each generation. Dwarves with this ability can look at a rock and no its exact history going back to the formation of the Earth. The dwarves call this power Kor Dosîm (cavern wisdom) or Id Äm (rock speak).

The nature of Id Äm is not well understood. In order to analyze a rock, a dwarf with true stonecunning needs only observe it for a few minutes, after which time they can explain any question posed so far with apparently perfect accuracy. More studies need to be conducted to better understand the nature of stonecunning. It is estimated that about 0.5% of all dwarves possess this ability.

Sexual Dimorphism
Dwarves across the world have notably low sexual dimorphism. Around 70% of female dwarves can grow beards and this is welcomed and honored in most cultures. These beards grow as long and as fast as the males, and are often just as decorated. Due to high body fat levels in the torso, males typically develop pronounced breasts. This is not considered unusual in most dwarven societies, and male dwarves often wear ornamented breast jewelry or decorative breast armor into battle. Roughly 2% of male dwarven breasts can lactate, and produce healthy dwarven milk. 

Conclusion
Dwarves as a species are resilient as they are diverse. Advancements in medicine, archaeology and paleontology will doubtless reveal far more than we currently know. Some secrets of dwarvenkind may never be understood, but with more study, we may someday understand the mysteries of the connection between man and dwarf and all the many creatures of our strange world.

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