| Homo orcus surdus|
Vodholk (/voðolk/, Achiyitqan bódolk or archaic wóteŋe) (Homo orcus surdus, also known as Homo sapiens surdus, or Homo surdus) also sometimes called futhorc, are a robust, white-furred homonin species native to the arctic and subarctic areas of Miraria, currently residing almost entirely in Achiyitqana, with notable subpopulations in Faźulavaz and Translira on the south pole.
They are formally recognized as sentient persons in the majority of Sahar nations, some which use the term "human" to all extant species of the Homo genus. However, some governments consider them to be non-sentient and/or non-persons. In this article, the term "human" will be used specifically to refer to Homo sapiens sapiens.
Etymology and definition
The common name vodholk is the endonym fotolk /foθolk/ [voðolk] of the largest extant macro-ethnic group of the species, whom the Vodholk language is also named after. This word is hypothesized to come from tol /θol/ 'to bury', in reference to the vodholk practice of digging temporary dwellings and storage areas, however this is contested.
The species/subspecies name Surdus, meaning 'deaf,' references the high percentage of deafness and associatedly high sign language use among the vodholk population.
They have also been described in the past with the species name Homo polaris, referencing their arctic habitat.
Taxonomy and evolutionary history
Vodholk (subspecies Surdus) represent the only extant subspecies of the orcs (Homo orcus) who populated most of Miraria from approximately 1.2MYA until the arrival of modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) in the last glacial maximum.
Homo orcus and Homo sapiens are both direct descendants of Homo erectus, making them sister species within the Homo genus. They are much more closely related to humans than the other great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutangs), to the point that human-vodholk hybridization is possible and well-established. The dalar species is more closely related to humans than vodholk are.
Homo orcus had several distinctive subspecies which went extinct and/or were subsumed into Homo sapiens since the last ice age. The vodholk are hypothesized to have survived into modern times mainly because of their habitat, which is largely inhospitable to humans, and possibly due to cultural traits that allowed them to peaceably interact with or otherwise avoid hostilities with the settler race. Other subspecies are known from fossil records, archaeology, and oral history, and were mostly extinct by 20,000YA.
Main article: Votef
Humans and vodholk are capable of interbreeding and have been doing so for at least 6,000 years if not longer. These hybrid individuals are called votef (Achiyitqan wótep, Vodholk foþef) and have a variety of traits from both species depending on percentage of vodholk ancestry, their chromosomes, and other factors. Votef have formed part of both human and vodholk cultures, and in some areas have their own ethnic groups.
Countries that do not recognize full-blooded vodholk as persons may recognize votef as persons, either categorically or depending on exact ancestry or individual traits.
First-generation votef with XY chromosomes tend to be infertile, however this is not an absolute guarantee, and XX individuals are most often fertile. This allows multiple generations of votef with varying percentages of human and vodholk ancestry.
Anatomy and physiology
Vodholk are similar in basic appearance to humans; they are a tailless, upright-walking, bipedal ape, with opposable thumbs and a naked face. However, only under poor visibility would one mistake a full-blooded vodholk for a human.
Vodholk tend to be short and robust, with greyish skin, and are covered in thick white fur over most of the body. Proportionately, they have longer forearms and shorter legs than humans, with smaller hands and shorter thicker fingers, larger and wider feet with splayed toes, and a slightly hunched posture.
Vodholk faces have been described as gorilla-like. There is a prominent brow ridge and an absence of eyebrows, a somewhat sloping forehead, possibly a small sagittal crest, and fur on the chin and cheeks. The eyes are somewhat small and appear deep-set due to the protruding brow. The ears are fairly large and have a pointed tip. Their lips are thin and straight, and often match the basic skin tone. The cheekbones are generally very broad and high. They also have larger and stronger jaws, a somewhat protruding chin, smaller sharper molars, and pronounced canine teeth, with some individuals showing lower canines even with mouths closed. Their noses resemble humans more than gorillas, with a raised bridge and tip and generally downwards-pointing, small nostrils.
The skin tone ranges from near-black to pale grey, although the overall appearance is white due to the thick white fur. The coat is made of two distinct layers, with the long white outer guard hairs measuring about 5-12 cm (2-4") in length on their heads, shoulders, back, and limbs, and a softer down about 1-2cm (0.4-0.7") long on the throat, chest, and groin. Only the face, palms of the hands, sole of the foot, and genitals are hairless. The longest fur occurs on the scalp, upper back, and the upper forearms (where it is often trimmed).
Ignoring postural differences, Vodholk generally range between 135-180cm (4'5" to 5'10") in height, with an average height of 155cm (5'1"), making them shorter than humans by 15cm (6") on average. The vast majority of vodholk fall between 142-162cm (4'8"-5'5") in height. The tallest vodholk on record was 201.6cm (6'7") tall, in comparison with the tallest humans who near 270cm (8'11").
However, they often weigh equal to or more than humans, with about 96kg (212 lbs) as an average weight (35kg (77 lbs) above human average). This weight is due to both higher body fat and higher muscle mass, and is only a little over the average weight of Achiyitqan humans. Vodholk who live among humans tend to resemble them more in weight when matching for socioeconomic class and activity level, and may be taller on average than other members of their species.
The vodholk vocal apparatus is quite similar to the human one. Vodholk voices tend towards lower vocal ranges (alto-bass). Speech often includes more overall nasal resonance.
There is very little sexual dimorphism among vodholk, and even the genitals can be ambiguous at first glance, as all vodholk have a phallus through which they urinate. Males are on average approximately 4cm (1.5") taller and 6kg (14 lbs) heavier, with longer canine teeth, longer fur around the neck (a 'mane'), and the true penis is on average larger than the female's phallic clitoris. In contrast, females have fuller breasts after puberty, and sometimes have slightly straighter posture, giving the illusion of greater height. Vodholk have little breast tissue until after giving birth, and in many cases the breasts will shrink slightly after lactation stops.
One of the most notable traits of the vodholk is the extremely high rate of deafness in the population. Nearly 20% of vodholk are born with "typical deafness" : congenital deafness with no other linked health issues (also known as profound deafness). This number is higher among twins and those with two or more X chromosomes. Approximately 2% are born with profound deafness in only one ear (unilateral deafness). A small percentage are born with other types of deafness, and, furthermore, nearly 50% of the population is deaf or hard of hearing by the age of 60. As a result of this, almost all vodholk know both a spoken and signed language (or one language with a spoken and signed mode).
With unilateral deafness and some types of acquired deafness, hearing aids or cochlear implants can be used to grant or restore some hearing, but profound deafness is irreversible. Most vodholk who might be eligible for treatment opt against it. Those living among humans are more likely to choose medical intervention.
It is theorized that the high level of deafness was only originally this common in the Vodholk ethnicity, and has only became so prominent in the total population after the Orcish near-extinction event.
The gestation period is approximately 7 months, and the multiple-births rate is much higher than the human rate, with approximately 8.6% of live births resulting in twins or triplets versus 1.3% among humans (or up to 3% in countries where IVF is common). Of these, identical twins are extremely rare at 5%, much lower than the human rate of 33%. The ratio of twins:triplets:more is approximately equal between the species, meaning that there is a slightly higher overall rate of triplets among vodholk.
Newborn vodholk typically weigh 2.5-4.2kg (5.5-9.2lbs) for singlets and slightly less for twins or triplets. They are born with only their undercoat, and develop their longer outer fur by about 2 months. For this reason, it is common to plan births for the spring. Vodholk infants are dependent on milk for at least sixteen months and frequently outgrow their human equivalents in the first year or two, especially in terms of weight, before stagnating in growth and then falling behind by about 5 years of age. Their gross motor skills develop quickly, faster than humans by three months (sitting, crawling) to eight (walking, climbing stairs, running) to nearly a year (kicking targets, playing ball). Fine motor skills typically match human children.
Vodholk typically lag behind humans in language production by about 5-8 months. Studies on comprehensive capability are hotly contested but the overall consensus is that comprehensive language ability is closer to or matches that of human infants (when contrasted with productive language ability). Like humans, vodholk can begin to understand and produce signed language a few months faster than they can spoken languages, and it is typical for parents to use both modes of communication with their infants. Basic cognitive skills match with humans, and sensory skills often occur earlier, while imaginative skills include make-believe, counting, and understanding of abstract concepts can take much longer to develop.
Vodholk enter puberty generally between 12-15 years of age, during which time they have a growth spurt to approximately 70% of their adult height, and reach sexual maturity between 16-20, a few years later than humans. The youngest vodholk on record to become pregnant was 13 years and 2 months and did not survive the pregnancy; the youngest to survive was 13 years 7 months.
Full adult height is reached by 25-29 years of age, by which point adult musculature is also mostly established. Fat set point as a factor of weight by percentage is typically finalized earlier, after puberty has begun and before 23 years of age.
Average longevity is on par with humans, but differently distributed due to Antépi's Paradox: although a higher percentage of vodholk obtain extreme longevity than humans, and although they have been shown to live 20-30 years longer than the human records in extreme cases, the average lifespan is actually somewhat lower than that of humans, at about 64 (vs 71). This is explained by an unfortunately high level of infant mortality at about 123/1000 in Achiyitqana, almost triple that of the human average, and is even higher in other nations. This has decreased significantly over the past 50 years in accordance with better living conditions, legal protections, and medical access for vodholk populations, but remains higher even when these effects are controlled for.
The majority of governments on Sahar recognize vodholk as legally sentient or sapient persons, sometimes considering them to in fact be members of the human species and therefore having identical rights to humans. Achiyitqana, the nation with the largest vodholk population, recognizes them as persons, but keeps them legally distinct from humans. It guarantees them the same basic civil liberties and rights as humans, but maintains a few legislative differences, mostly revolving around cultural practices and hate crime laws. A number of countries, however, do not distinguish them as two different species.
Some countries consider vodholk as some sort of "near-persons", with more rights and protections than most animals, but fewer than humans (all countries with such views are majority-human countries). For example, they may be granted rights similar to that of a human child (e.g. basic protections against death and torture) who may or may not be legally permitted to work, but bar them from full adult citizenship. Some limitations of this latter type include barring vodholk from participation in electoral processes, owning property, occupying certain prestige roles, or attaining certain accreditations. In practice, however, most of these countries have few to any vodholk among their population, as they are often in unsuitable climates.
Two countries, Uymmostadi and Yahara, presently consider vodholk to be legally non-sentient. This may indicate that they have the same legal standing as most animals, which may include protections against undue harm and cruelty.
A large number of countries have no established ruling on the matter, including some countries with relatively large vodholk populations, such as Koize.
Sentience and cognition
Vodholk are broadly considered to be sentient or sapient individuals across Sahar, although there are exceptions (see Vodholk#Legal personhood).
Vodholk cognition is a matter of some contention. For humanitarian and legal purposes it has been considered historically important to show that vodholk are "intellectual equals" of humans. Scientific studies have had mixed results, with contrasting studies finding H. sapiens and H. surdus to score both identically and vastly differently on a variety of intelligence tests.
In recent years however, researchers have backed up more traditional assumptions, with the majority of peer-reviewed studies now showing that vodholk do have markedly different cognition than humans. They definitely fit all definitions of basic sentience: they are self-aware, capable of language, imaginative, employ creative problem-solving, and have an understanding of the future and death. However, they tend to score much lower than humans on standard IQ tests focusing on mathematical and logical problems, and certain types of language problems. An additional finding was that many vodholk can, however, match with or even outcompete their human peers in these tasks if time limits are removed; these are typically vodholk who have been raised in human-majority education systems.
On the other hand, vodholk outscore humans in tests of spacial reasoning, have faster reaction times, are better at telling when a person (human or vodholk) is lying, and are generally more skilled at correctly interpreting body language and non-verbal cues. Many of these factors have been attributed to most vodholk growing up learning visual-manual (signed) languages, but they perform better than their human peers who are d/Deaf or raised in predominantly human communities, as well.
Widely-accepted differences exist in development benchmarks between vodholk and human children. Vodholk infants are somewhat more |precocial than humans; while born helpless, they meet early milestones like the ability to support and move the head a few weeks earlier. This trend continues throughout early development: vodholk babies and children are notably quicker to learn gross motor skills (see Lify cycle); but they are a bit slower with language and much slower with mathematical and abstract reasoning.
The mismatch between physical and cognitive development (when compared with humans) leads to the so-called dangerous baby phenomenon: since they are able to crawl before fully understanding danger, vodholk are statistically more likely to suffer injuries in infancy. Thankfully these do not tend to be especially severe. Because of their slightly more precocial nature, it is said that vodholk tend to learn more through "doing" (at least in infancy) while humans learn more by "seeing," and indeed logical and abstract thinking tends to follow closely after related motor development.
By late childhood (ages ~7-10) most discrepancies between the two species have been resolved, except for those differences that persist into adulthood.
Habitat and population
There are an estimated 500,000-2mil pure-blood vodholk in the world [figures depend on other countries], with census figures of 636,201 in Achiyitqana as of 2015. Votef (human-vodholk hybrids) populations are more difficult to determine depending on accepted definition; first-generation votef are probably fewer than 20,000 globally, but nearly 430,000 people report "votef ancestry" in Achiyitqana.
Vodholk are native to the far north of Miraria and do well in arctic, subarctic, alpine, and antarctic regions. Their extreme cold tolerance proves as a hindrance in warmer climates, however, and they are vulnerable especially to rapid and sustained increases in temperature. Most vodholk are uncomfortable at temperatures exceeding 17C, and are at risk of heat stroke by 25C when engaged in strenuous activity, meaning their temperature tolerance threshold is on average 10-20 degrees lower than humans. (The same is true at the lower end of the scale.) However, individuals are capable of adapting to slightly higher average temperatures over time; their fur does thin during summer months, and the insulating layer can actually protect against high temperatures in short bursts.
Although most vodholk live today in Achiyitqana and Faźulavaz, sizable populations also exist in other polar and temperate countries throughout Miraria, as well as a large number of immigrants to the southern polar region.
Although the vodholk species is often considered to comprise only one ethnolinguistic group, based on the majority extant group, there are a few extant minority vodholk ethnicities within Achiyitqana and in some other nations.
The largest ethnic group, the Vodholk (for whom the species is named), historically lived throughout much of modern Achiyitqana, migrating north in the summer. The northernmost areas of Koize are populated by the Tashkar group.