Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hobbits and tools

In a hole in the ground there was found a hobbit...

The Independent is reporting objections to the recent claims by the Microcephaly Proponents that the hobbits (Homo floresiensis) had brains that were too small to make the stone tools found with them.

James Phillips, professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that it was wrong to suggest that the stone tools could have been made by earlier species of humans, such as Homo erectus, a creature that evolved more than 1.8 million years ago and predated modern humans by many hundreds of thousands of years.

"These tools are so advanced that there is no way they were made by anyone other than Homo sapiens," Professor Phillips said.

Now, however, another team of stone-tool experts has cast doubt on this judgement, saying that similar stone tools have been uncovered on the island that clearly predate the arrival of modern Homo sapiens.

Adam Brumm of the Australian National University in Canberra and his colleagues report in the journal Nature that they have found hundreds of almost identical stone tools at a site called Mata Menge just 30 miles away from the Liang Bua cave. They say the tools are between 700,000 and 840,000 years old - too old to have been made by Homo sapiens - and that the production techniques are practically identical to that used at Liang Bua 18,000 years ago.
Good to see this line being taken. If the evidence suggests they did make stone tools, then intuitive preconceptions about brain size and tool making have to go by the wayside. As Grissom says, the evidence does not lie.

The objections of those proposing that the hobbits were microcephalics strike me as being special pleading in the truest sense - we humans are so special, nothing else could have made these tools. But the ANU team seem to have shown that tools were made by the prior hominid erectus along the same style and method, and that the hobbits probably retained that technology when isolated. It takes big brains perhaps to invent the technology, but it takes only the normal mimetic repertoire of hominid brains to learn how to do this. I'm not even convinced it takes much brain power to invent Acheulian or Olduwan style tools anyway. In fact, given the right circumstances I would think chimps could do it.

Argument by imagination (I can/can't imagine it, therefore it does/doesn't happen that way) is completely bankrupt, in science or out of it. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dream't of in your philosophy, Horatio...