KW: Obviously you were surprised to find a small-brained hominid making tools like those of large-brained Homo sapiens. What does this tell you about how brain size matters where intelligence is concerned? Does brain size matter relative to body size, or is it absolute brain size that is important?
PB: I think brain size in relation to body size is important because the brain has to control the body. But I think the most important thing is how the brain is wired up, how information is transferred around the brain. We can't get at this with any fossil [hominid]. We can get a gross morphology of brains from endocasts and CAT scans and things like that, but we can never determine how the brain was wired. And it seems to me that [in the case of] Liang Bua--if it was the toolmaker, and I believe it was--the important difference between it and perhaps some other [hominids] is not so much in the brain size/ body size relationship but how the brain was wired up.
KW: Do you think it's possible that H. floresiensis or other as-yet-undiscovered dwarfed human species could have contributed genetically to some of the small-bodied people who live in rainforest regions in this part of the world today?
PB: There are small-bodied people living in Melanesia and New Guinea and some of the islands in Southeast Asia, but they're just small modern humans. All of the features in the cranial vault and the skeleton reflect that they are just small modern humans. And we know from the genetic evidence and archaeological evidence when they got there and where they came from to a reasonable degree of precision. I can't see any way at all that they have anything to do with the Liang Bua people.
KW: How deep are the waters surrounding Flores?
PB: The channels are very, very deep--way more than 100 meters. Maximum sea level declination was about 80 to 100 meters in the region, but some of these channels are much, much deeper than that. One of the interesting things about these people is how the hell they got to Flores. We know Stegodon, like elephants, could swim large distances. Elephants are occasionally found five to 10 kilometers out to sea, and Flores is not so far from Komodo, and Komodo is not so far from the other islands in the chain. So you can easily think of elephant relatives swimming across here. But the currents between some of these islands are very, very strong, particularly between Flores and Komodo, and between Komodo and the other islands. The queston is whether [early humans] used watercraft, whether it was an accidental or intentional process, or whether in fact tectonic activity meant that at some time in the past there was a land bridge which isn't there today. At present there's no evidence of a land bridge, but you can't rule it out as a possibility.
KW: That's really interesting, especially if you have people on Flores by 840,000 years ago, which is what archaeological remains from other sites suggest.
PB: Yup. Java is not a problem, it was joined to the Indonesian mainland. But on current evidence these small islands never were.
KW: Certainly by the time of LB1, people had well-developed language and oral traditions. Might encounters with humans like LB1 and other, unknown, island forms be the source of mythologies that are so widespread in the world today involving very tiny people and very large people?
PB: You pick a country and there's either large Bigfoots and Yetis, or small leprechauns and Yowis, depending on which part of the world you're in. On Flores there is a mythical humanlike animal called Ebu Gogo, known for small body size, inarticulate speech and an unusual bipedal gait. Every country seems to have myths about these things. We've excavated a lot of sites around the world and we've never found them. But then last September we found LB1, so surprise, surprise. There's got to be some overlap in time between [Homo floresiensis] and Homo sapiens. But in terms of oral histories and racial memories and those sorts of things, that's still a very long time period. Whether people are thinking these things because at one time or other someone actually excavated or found the remains of something small and unexpected I don't know. But the time periods seem too long--it's not as if they're represented in rock art or anything else. Which is not to say there's not some basis. But I would be surprised. I just think humans have amazing imaginations and they see all sorts of things and create all sort of explanations for things which they half see or maybe see. And a fleeting glimpse seems to mean more than it really should.