Posted by: drew | June 1, 2006

Hobbit Technology and its Implications for Evolution

In a followup to my original post about the early hominid species homo floresiensis, or "hobbit", found on the Island of Flores off of Indonesia, ABC News reports that followup research suggests that the hobbit was capable of creating the tools that have been found around their bones.

Some scientists have recently argued that the tools found alongside the hobbit at the Liang Bua cave are too complex to have been made by anyone but modern humans.

But Dr Moore, along with Australian and Indonesian colleagues, think otherwise.

The team has analysed the techniques used to make over 500 tools found at Mata Menge, a site about 50 kilometres from where the hobbit was found.

The researchers say although the tools would have been made 700,000 years before the hobbit was around, they seemed just as complex as the ones found alongside it.

The researchers say the tools were probably made by ancestors of Homo floresiensis, suggesting a long history of toolmaking on the island.

This supports the idea that the hobbit, even with its small brain, was capable of making the tools found alongside it, Dr Moore said.

Further, this discovery may have implications for evolution. Go below for more on that.

Those who discovered the hobbit believe it evolved from a larger bodied, larger brained ancestor that shrank over time as it was isolated on the island.

The fact that the hominid could still make stone tools despite its shrinking brain suggests toolmaking was key to survival on the island.

This supports the argument that technology helps humans survive changing environments.

But Dr Moore thinks it also tells us that technology does not protect us from evolutionary selection pressures, like predators or other environmental factors that affect our survival.

The environment is a bigger force than we give it credit for, he said.

"There's an underlying assumption in the popular media, in particular, and amongst some scientists, that since we adapt to our environment through technology that somehow this is buffering us from the forces of natural selection," he said.

But he says the use of technology by the hobbit's ancestors to adapt to their environment did not stop them from shrinking in response to selection pressures.

"Even though they had a technological adaptation to the environment, it didn't mean that they had stopped evolving," Dr Moore said.



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