What Difference Does a Damaged Skull Make, Anyhow?

Readers of this blog are familiar with my fascination of the fossils of human ancestors. I’ve written about fossils’ beauty, their strange stories, and the ways they make us question our ideas. Despite these points, critics often ask: do the discoveries of these bits of bone actually make any difference? In other words, why is paleoanthropology important;…

A Day at Liang Bua

In 2004, the discovery of a tiny hominin catapulted the limestone cave of Liang Bua into the scientific spotlight. Few people realize, however, that Liang Bua’s scientific history extends both long before the hobbit’s discovery and continues unfolding to the present day. On a recent trip to the cave, where I was hoping to learn more…

Following Father Verhoeven to Flores

The story of an unexpected hobbit discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores is fairly well known (–and if you don’t know it, check out this piece by Ewen Callaway, or my post on the discovery). A team of interdisciplinary scientists led by archaeologist Mike Morwood was looking for clues about human migration to Australia in…

On Friendships & Missing Links: Bringing Characters to Life

There’s a moment, I’ve realized, for each scientist I study, when they transform from an abstract, historical figure into a human being. This character-to-human transition happens quickly, and the shift is striking—as if they’ve transcended the two dimensional world left behind in their written letters and suddenly sprung to life. In this moment, without warning, I feel empathy…