The Hobbit's Brain
March 3, 2005 10:39 PM   Subscribe

The Hobbit's Brain. Recent analysis of the Homo floresiensis skull (previous discussion) gives clues about its brain structure and ancestry. The technical paper is here [Science subscription required].
posted by painquale (7 comments total)
Tricksy little hobbitses!
posted by antron at 4:38 AM on March 4, 2005

I knew DnD was real.
posted by bardic at 10:34 AM on March 4, 2005

What's really interesting is that the little varmints seem to have had social abilities similar to humans, despite the small brains. Which suggests a possibility of human-like social complexity without general intelligence.

Which suggests that our behaviors may be less the process of rational thought or even social constriction that we often like to think. Which suggests that the evolutionary biologists and sociobiologists may be more correct that the "Standard Social Science Model" of cultural supremacy.

What's additionally interesting is that these people were around as recently as 18,000 years ago -- and possibly much more recently.

And one suspects they were wiped out by humans; if they qualify as an "intelligent" (whatever that means) species of the genus Homo it would be truly the most horrific genocide ever committed by Homo sapiens, the complete extinction of not just a tribe or ethnicity or race, but of an entire species that could, to some degree, qualify as "not animal". The murder of Abel by Cain write large.

Did we drive them out of their hunting grounds? Enslave them? Rape them? Butcher them for food? Considering we've historically -- and currently -- been more than happy to do all of these things to our fellow sapiens they answer must almost certainly be "of course we did".

When the English settled Tasmania, they hunted down the last of the aboriginal Tasmians, offering a bounty for their heads. Aboriginal scrotums were made into tobacco patches. The very last surviving Tasmanian was transported to England to be displayed like an animal until her death, when her bones were displayed in a museum. In Africa, German colonists did similarly, listing corpses of slain black Africans along with "other" big game carcasses.

So how did the last floresiensis die? Hounded and tracked down through what had once been its tribe's own hunting grounds? Pathetically clutching itself behind a too-thin screen of leaves as the spear-making technology it can't comprehend allows the sapiens to impale it from thirty yards? By bleeding to death after a gang-rape by much more massive sapiens? As a pet or livestock tortured to death by the thoughtlessly cruel sapiens children of its his captors? In a stew pot? (But probably not in gas chamber disguised as a shower.)

Is a floresiensis properly termed an "it" or a "he"? If a floresiensis is a he, why isn't a chimp? If we discovered a living floresiensis, could we put it in a two foot by three foot cage in a lab, infect it with AIDS, and see how soon it died?

Or would we let him vote?
posted by orthogonality at 11:21 AM on March 4, 2005

/me breaks into a chorus of "The Greatest Adventure."
posted by ilsa at 11:34 AM on March 4, 2005

orthogonality, while I'm as pessimistic as you about the possibility of peaceful coexistence between homo sapiens and other intelligent species (be they Neanderthals in the past or extraterrestrial life in the future), you forget one other possibilty: that the two species interbred.

At the time of the original homo florensis announcement, I read articles online saying that there are native islander stories as late as a few hundred years ago about groups of little people living on the island who could imitate or mimic the sounds of human language, but not "speak" it. And the average size of the humans living on the island even in the present day is fairly short. Maybe some of them made love instead of war?

(Flashbacks to Asimov's "The Ugly Little Boy", anyone?)
posted by Asparagirl at 12:44 PM on March 4, 2005

Asparagirl writes "you forget one other possibilty [sic]: that the two species interbred."

Oh suuuuure, Pollyanna!

No, you're right, I didn't think of that. But given that:
a) the Out of Africa hypothesis has the great preponderance of evidence behind it
b) except for the Multiregional hypothesis's evidence that modern-day Asians show anatomical and morphological features similar to Asian Homo erectus fossils discovered in (!) Indonesia,
c) one wonders if you might be right and that rather than interbreeding with erectus, Asian sapiens interbred with floresienis, also present in Indonesia, and much more recently than erectus.
posted by orthogonality at 2:12 PM on March 4, 2005

But see also this:
Another distinguishing element to the story is that it ends with the villagers killing most or all of the Ebu Gogo. In other tales of “little people”, the creatures are normally said to still be alive.
posted by orthogonality at 2:43 PM on March 4, 2005

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