June 1, 2006
They say small-brained species was smart enough to fashion stones
LONDON - Hobbit-sized humans who survived on an isolated Indonesian island until 12,000 years ago were smart enough to make stone tools even though they had small brains, scientists said Wednesday.
Some researchers doubt that tools, found with the remains of the species named Homo floresiensis in a cave on the island of Flores, could have been made by the 3-foot-tall (90-centimeter-tall) creatures — whose brains were about the size of a grapefruit. They believe the tools must have been made by modern humans.
Experts have also argued that the "hobbit" people were modern humans suffering from an illness that caused their small brain and size. But an international team of scientists said older tools also found on the island, dating back more than 800,000 years, showed that the "hobbits" probably inherited their tool-making skills from their ancestors.
“Small-brained or not, Homo floresiensis was capable of making stone tools, and therefore the standard story of the relationship between brain size and behavioral complexity in human evolution may be less straightforward than currently assumed,” said the team's leader, Adam Brumm of the Australian National University in Canberra.
“The causal relationship between brain size and the complexity of tool behavior in humans is assumed, not demonstrated,” Brumm said. “Until now stone tools have only been found in association with large and relatively large-brained hominids, but Homo floresiensis changes that, forcing us to rethink the way we associate big brain with sophisticated behavior.”
Brumm and his team, who reported the findings in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature (http://www.nature.com/), believe the tools found with the species dubbed “Flores man” were the end point in a tradition of tool-making on the island east of Java, which was also home to Komodo dragons, miniature elephants and other exotic species.