Nightfall in the Hobbit Cave

“This is what Homo floresiensis must have felt like,” a paleoanthropologist mused through the darkness. It is almost 8pm on a Thursday and I am sitting on the floor of the cave known as Liang Bua. Other researchers stand only a meter from me, but I cannot see them, my eyes have yet to adjust…

Seeing as a Child Sees: Science, Wonder, and Excitement

“We have a healthy spacecraft,” Alice Bowman announced on the evening of July 14, 2015. Bowman, the operations manager for the New Horizons mission, was commenting on the incredible flyby of Pluto, a flyby that gave humans a closer view of the planet than we had ever seen before. In an interview following the historic flyby,…

Darwin’s Worst Nightmare Part II: I Will Do Anything

Last week, I told the story of the time Darwin received a harrowing letter from Alfred Russel Wallace. The date was June 18th, 1858, and Darwin had potentially lost his originality. His claim to “discovering” evolution through natural selection–an idea he had been working on for twenty years–had seemingly vanished before his eyes. When I…

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;…