Some of our ancestors, who lived in Indonesia as recently as18,000 years ago, had tiny brains that were only about athird the size of modern human brains, yet they were capableof advanced thinking equal to our own. Scientists arecalling them “hobbits,” after the little people in the popular films andbooks.

The journal Science reports that the tiny people who oncelived on the island of Flores in Indonesia were a uniquespecies. They were the only ones to inhabit the island for100,000 years, before they became extinct?possibly due to avolcanic eruption that occurred around 12,000 years ago andcould have shot enough ash into the atmosphere to preventthe sun from reaching their crops. They could also have beenwiped out by the arrival of modern humans.

By examining their skulls, researchers were able to discoverthat they had two large lobes in the front of their brains.That’s the area in our brains that is used for sophisticatedconcepts such as planning ahead and memory storage, as wellas the part of the brain where complex emotions areprocessed. It’s alsothe area that gives us sight, hearing and touch.

For the best in science reporting, listen to Dreamland everyweek for the excellent reports from,Linda Howe?she tells us the latest aboutwhat’shappening in science and how it willeffect our lives. Don’t miss her specialreport this weekend on theearthquakeswarm off the coast ofOregon, as well as her regular Dreamland report onavian flu.

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