One of the more controversial stories in physical anthropology concerns the small bodied humans found on Palau. The finds were published back in March in PLoS. In that paper Berger et al argued that the material they found represents a population of Palauans that possibly were subject to island dwarfing (although they also imply that Palua could have been populated by small bodied humans who later grew larger). Berger et al also compare the remains to Homo floresiensis and make several suggestions anout small body size and primitive characteristics of the genus Homo (I’ll return to this point later).
Then in August of 2008 Fiztgerald et al published a paper in PLoS criticizing the Berger et al paper. Fitzgerald et al argued that Palau archaeological and skeletal evidence indicates that Palau was colonized by normal sized populations and that these populations were never subject to island dwarfing. There matters rested until a few days ago when Gallagher published a paper on the subject, also in PLoS. Gallagher argues that Palau was colonized by a small bodied population that was never subject to island dwarfing and that grew larger over time. Gallagher’s paper seems to be a direct response to Fitzgerald et al’s paper although, strangely, it is not cited by Gallagher. This is surprising in that Gallagher does mention that Berger’s conclusions have been the subject of some controversy (he cites the Dalton papers in Nature at this point – which had to do with how the finds were discovered and the resulting political and ethical controversy, not with the actual scientific conclusions that are in dispute).
There is another paper out that relates to one of the claims made by Berger et al. In their discussion Berger et al say:
A number of the individual traits observed in the Palauan sample are seen also in specimens from Flores (although the form of these traits may differ in the Palauan sample), some of which have been argued to support the unique taxonomic status of H. floresiensis: small body size, reduction of the absolute size of the face, pronounced supraorbital tori, non-projecting chins, relative megadontia, expansion of the occlusal surface of the premolars, rotation of teeth within the maxilla and mandible, and dental agenesis. These last two features are not argued to be taxonomic markers, but their occurance in specimens from both Palau and Flores is notable, as they may be parallel results of founder effects, genetic isolation and a high inbreeding coefficient, or may simply be a factor of evolutionarily rapid reduction in body and craniofacial size…
This paper will be the subject of my next post.
Filed under: Bioarchaeology