Believe it or not, the diminutive but rough dwarf is the closest of all the humanoids to be biologically realistic. How?

Let's look up Homo neandertalensis, the stereotypical caveman, in comparison with modern man:

enter image description here

My proposal is that the dwarf's skeletal design be identical to the neandertal's, only compressed in a smaller body--average height, 4'0".

However, certain anatomical differences between dwarves and neandertals are those I propose on all mythological humanoids:

  1. Tetrachromacy--possession of a fourth color receptor, allowing the dwarf to see colors beyond the visible spectrum.
  2. Chest--the lungs taking up 15% of the overall body volume rather than the typical mammalian 7%, and a heart so large that if they were human, they'd be diagnosed with cardiomegaly.

However, there is one other difference exclusive to both dwarves and elves--the tapetum lucidum, a tissue behind the retina that reflects light, increasing light availability to the photoreceptors though at the risk of detail. (Though if you are a tetrachromat, that might not be a problem.)

Are any of my proposals listed above sound, or have I created some unintentional side effects to the dwarvish body?

  • $\begingroup$ To those who downvoted: Please leave a comment as to how you think JohnWDailey could improve the question. $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Sep 23, 2016 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ Could you explain why tetrachromy is important to include systematically? $\endgroup$
    – Alexis
    Nov 8, 2018 at 16:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Alexis Canonically, dwarves can see in the dark. I'd assume the fourth cone would be in the infrared $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2018 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ tapetum lucidum does make visual clarity worse, you are basically forcing a blur into the vision. animals that can see better in the dark end up with worse color vision not better, as color sensitive cones need more light than rods. this is why most mammals are dichromats, they are descended from nocturnal animals. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 4, 2023 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


The lower, larger cranium seems to hinder the development of the frontal lobe. This is likely why neanderthals were out-competed

Furthermore, if you simply shrink the skull proportionally (if that's what you were saying) you end up with low-intelligence people who could not reasonably develop advanced metallurgy.

The reason people with dwarfism have normal IQ ranges is because their skull volume is comparable to people without dwarfism.

Larger lung and heart capacities don't solve the problem of noxious subterranean gases. You would also need to alter the internal structure of the lungs to enable them to exchange gases more efficiently in low-oxygen environments.

You haven't addressed the traditional dwarves' high constitution or strength, the latter of which seemingly defies our understanding of biomechanical leverage.

Infrared and night vision can certainly be achieved biologically.

  • $\begingroup$ No, the proportion is still Neandertal. It's just compacted in a smaller body. What constitution? What strength? $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2016 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnWDailey: In "Modern fantasy", which I would say was initiated by Tolkien's works and codified by Dungeons & Dragons, portrays dwarfs as both strong and hardy. The later via attribute bonuses in those categories, the former by explicit intent of their Valar progenitor Aulë. Additionally, dwarves are portrayed most often as smiths (especially blacksmiths) or miners, both professions which require strength and endurance (more so in the medieval era). $\endgroup$
    – sharur
    Sep 23, 2016 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ @sharur They're still miners and smiths, but they're just jobs, not survival livelihoods. They are also capable of growing crops, shearing hairs, collecting fossils--whatever jobs humans do, dwarves also do. $\endgroup$ Sep 24, 2016 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ I believe the ridiculous constitution, unusual strength, and impressive fortitude for the dwarvish race comes from the Nordic myths and interpretation of dwarves, from which both Tolkien and D&D drew inspiration. Especially when you factor in the drinking. ^^ Also you are perhaps forgetting the hobbits, which bones were recently uncovered on an island, if I recall correctly? Jungle pygmies were also an historically real racial group, if memory serves. $\endgroup$
    – nijineko
    Sep 25, 2016 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnWDailey: I was trying to answer your question "What constitution? What strength?" by explaining (what I felt) Anon Y. Mous meant by "traditional" in his answer. Also note that if a population values a trait, that trait will become more prominent in that population. E.g. where I am from, doctors and lawyers (and other educated professions, but those are the stereotypes) are highly valued, and so introductory education is both paid for by the community and compulsory. If one values smiths and miners, strength building exercises may be compulsory, raising the average strength and endurance. $\endgroup$
    – sharur
    Sep 26, 2016 at 16:56

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