Stone Tools and Homo floresiensis

According to National Geographic a study, to be published in tomorrows issue of Nature (Could someone send me the article when it becomes available?) links the stone tools at Liang Bua to 800,000 year old tools found at nearby Mata Menge.


The paper links the two based on the way the tools were flaked and shaped and argues for a continuous lineage between the two:

“Our interpretation of the similarities between the Mata Menge and Liang Bua technologies is that a single hominin lineage made the same kinds of stone tools on Flores for over 700,000 years, probably a lot longer,” Brumm said.

Richard Potts thinks this is a sensible idea, but points out a few caveats:

Richard Potts is the director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He said the concept of a continuous toolmaking tradition on Flores–a remote and isolated island–makes sense.
However, the new study fails to prove continuity of a stone-toolmaking tradition passed down an ancestral line.
The study authors “have only two data points, and they are just connecting the two points,” Potts said.
To prove continuity, the team needs tools from a few other Flores sites dated between the 800,000-year and 12,000-year marks, he added.
And regardless of continuity, Potts says, the new study fails to resolve the debate over who the hobbit-like people are descended from.

Both points I essentially agree with, although I am happy to see anthropologists look at the tools as well as the bones. It’s interesting to watch the back and forth on this issue. One of the effects of the current loggerhead on the issue is that it is forcing anthropologists to examine other methods of solving the issue. Always a good thing because it usually leads to methodological innovation.
At any rate, this is the most interesting part of the National Geographic article:

The relative simplicity of the Flores tools implies that a sophisticated modern-human brain was not necessary to make the tools, according to study author Brumm. Even so, the toolmakers were capable craftspeople, he adds.
“There is a lot of precision in the manufacture of these tools, which is striking because traditional interpretations of early hominin tool technology in Southeast Asia imply that it is crude and rough flaking,” he said.
Potts said the simple yet elegant Flores tools force scientists to rethink the factors that drove the evolution of the big brains humans benefit from today.
“There’s a long tradition in [the study of fossil hominids] that somehow brain size and complexity of technology are tied up with one another,” he said.
According to Potts, perhaps the need to process larger geographical and social landscapes drove evolution towards bigger brains–a need not found on tiny Flores
.
For example, in Africa around the time modern humans originated, stone toolmakers were using resources from more than 62 miles (100 kilometers) away, Potts says.
The tools “were exchanged between groups. And so you have this spatial manipulation of the landscape, including the social landscape, associated with all that brainpower,” he said.

Although interesting, I’m not sure I buy this. Flores may be tiny, but I’m not sure that we should assume that it is an ecologically simple place…

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One Response

  1. I’m sure you’ve already found these articles elsewhere or from others by now since this post is about a week old, but I emailed the two Nature articles to you just in case.
    Cheers.

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