Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"Hobbit" humans able to make tools

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 (90 cm) 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 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 behavioural 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 behaviour in humans is assumed, not demonstrated," said Brumm.

Story here.

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