Palau skeletons and Homo floresiensis on National Public Radio

The National Public Radio’s Science Friday programme has a 12-minute interview with Lee Berger, the principal investigator of the Palau skeletons. Find out what this find means for the homo floresiensis debate and for our understanding of humankind in general.


photo credit: Rosino

Discovery Casts Doubt on ‘Hobbit’ Theory
NPR, 14 March 2008

When it comes to discussion about a theory in dispute, Science Friday usually has a couple of panel speakers come together and debate the issue, but this segment was just a straight interview with Dr Berger. The good thing about the interview was that they discussed both sides of the Hobbit debate without leaning to any conclusions, and so it didn’t seem to me as if any particular agenda was being pushed.

Berger’s main point was that the Palau skeletons – given that they are 2,000 to 3,000 years old – seem to indicate that human populations placed in a confined enough environment can possibly develop island dwarfism and display traits of primitivism seen in earlier hominids (perhaps, a kind of regression?). Apparently, there are other similar deposits of skeletons in the archipelago, and perhaps spread throughout the islands of the pacific.

The dating of the Palau skeletons also place them firmly within the expansion of Austronesian-linguistic groups from Taiwan to island Southeast Asia and the pacific islands, which would indicate that the Palau Pygmies may be a lot closer related to Southeast Asian populations than we think. I wonder if there can be any genetic comparisions made between the Palau skeletons and the rest of the Austronesian population. Also, how is the existing population of Palau related to the skeletons?

Related Books:
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood
A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia by M. Morwood and P. van Oosterzee

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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