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…

Learning About the Hobbits of Flores

“Oh, this is absolutely bizarre,” scientist Bert Roberts exclaimed, referring to the fossil species Homo floresiensis. Bizarre is a word that sums up the floresiensis creatures (known as the hobbits) quite nicely. These primitive hominins–with their small brains, huge feet, and tiny stature–were discovered almost accidently in 2003, and they were completely unexpected. “We would have been less…

A Favorite Sunday Ritual

When I began considering applying to graduate school, my mother told me I should read The New York Times to help build my vocabulary. So while studying for the graduate entrance exams, I started picking up the Sunday Times from a newsstand next to the burger joint I waitressed at. This quickly became a favorite weekly…