May 31, 2006

“Hobbit” humans able to make tools

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - 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 on 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 creatures whose
brains were about the size of a grapefruit.

They believe the tools must have been made by modern

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
dating back more than 800,000 years also found on the island
showed 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 Adam Brumm, of the Australian National
University in Canberra, who headed the team.

Until now it was thought that the larger the brain, the
smarter the hominid. Brumm said his findings suggest that may
not be the case.

"The causal relationship between brain size and the
complexity of tool behavior in humans is assumed, not
demonstrated," said Brumm.

"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 re-think the way we
associate big brain with sophisticated behavior," he added.

Brumm and his team, who reported the findings in the
journal Nature, 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.

The researchers said their findings show the same types of
stone tools found with the species were made by their ancestors
when they arrived on the island at least 840,000 years ago.

Remains of the new species were found a few years ago when
scientists discovered a partial skeleton of an adult female.
The tiny creatures are thought to have descended from Homo
erectus, which had a large brain, was full-sized and spread
from Africa to Asia about 2 million years ago.

Scientists believe they become so small because of
environmental conditions such as food shortages and a lack of