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from the trenches
Books: Homo hobbittus Volume 60 Number 4, July/August 2007
by Zach Zorich

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Four years ago Mike Morwood of Australia's University of New England was directing an archaeological project aimed at revealing the differences between the cultures and environments of Indonesian islands separated by the Wallace Line, a deep-water channel that has largely kept animal species of Asia from migrating farther east than Borneo. (It's named for biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin.) While the project was meant to produce insights into evolutionary theory, no one expected the discovery of the 13,000-year-old bones of a three-foot-tall person whom Morwood dubbed the "hobbit," or in scientific terms, Homo floresiensis. In A New Human (Smithsonian Books, $25.95) Morwood defends the hobbit's status as a new species against critics who believe it may have been a pygmy who suffered from a genetic disease called microcephaly, which can cause bone deformities including an abnormally small skull. With the help of science writer Penny van Oosterzee, Morwood rakes his critics over the coals and gives a thorough account of his research, including a less-than-spellbinding chapter on the grant application process.

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© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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