Tools of the hobbits

2 minute read

Julien Riel-Salvatore figures the Liang Bua "hobbit" tools aren't so complicated after all:

Personally, I have never been especially convinced by the claims for systematic blade technology associated with LB1. The two 'macroblades' (a, b) and two 'microblades' (e, f) illustrated by Morwood et al. (2004: Fig. 5) aren't very regular (the central dorsal ridges are not straight in any of them) and none of their platforms (from what can be seen) are truly 'lipped', unlike the platforms usually generated by soft-hammer production (which is largely employed in true blade production). Furthermore, the illustrated "burin core" really looks to me like a flake core from which a series of small flakes with subparallel edges were knocked off, not a bladelet core. None of this really conforms to the "narrow blades removed sequentially from blade cores" alluded to by some detractors (in Culotta 2007:741) who considers they can only be produced by H. sapiens (a misleading assertion anyway [Bar-Yosef and Kuhn 1999]). Rather, M. Moore and T. Sutkina , who have studied the tools, argue that they represent fairly "simple stone artifacts" (in Culotta 2007:741), which happen to include a few flakes that are twice as long as they are wide - the traditional, if slightly outdated, definition of a blade.

Julien notes that archaeologists often illustrate the "best looking" tools in their papers, and the LB tools aren't all that good looking -- to his mind, they aren't convincing as intentional blades. He connects the idea of rudimentary tools to the wrist morphology, suggesting that the wrist may mean a lack of fine motor control.

As for myself, I agree it's hard to tell. I find Mark Moore's papers on the technology in SE Asia/Australasia to be informative, but it's not entirely clear which direction to interpret them. One consistent point (c.f. Brumm and Moore 2005, Camb Arch J 15:157) is that modern humans in the area did not create anything clearly more "Upper Paleolithic-like" than the LB tools. The abilities of local modern humans don't really address whether a "Homo floresiensis" population might have produced similar artifacts.

Nor is the anatomy of the wrist very convincing on the question of tool manufacture: Until we know about the wrist morphology of late Acheulean/early MSA people, we simply aren't going to know whether "complex" or "sophisticated" tools need any particular wrist architecture.

So, with the tools, I wonder whether people have been trying to connect dots that don't need connecting.

Meanwhile, Leigh Dayton of The Australian reports that the LB tools show "evidence of plant work and butchery":

Working with University of Queensland colleagues Michael Haslam and Gail Robertson, Dr [Carol] Lentfer found evidence of plant work and butchery on stone flakes and cobbles from archeological layers ranging from 12,000 to 55,000 years old.
They identified blood and bone on some tools, but more than 90 per cent of the residues were from woody and fibrous plants.
Dr Lentfer said hobbits clearly enjoyed a barbecue, as evidenced by the remains of fires and numerous animal bones, especially of baby stegodons (small elephants), komodo dragons and giant rats. The animal bones were found near tools and hobbit remains, and had cut marks indicative of butchery.

Well, that's more than we knew yesterday...