Peter Andrews’ review of Morwood’s book – A New Human

Peter Andrews, a research scientist at the Natural History Museum in London and a professor in the department of anthropology at University College London, has reviewed the book, “Mike Morwood & Penny van Oosterzee’s book “A New Human”A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia,” by Mike Morwood and Penny van Oosterzee.

Mike Morwood, if you don’t know or remember, is one of the original members of the team that found the Homo floresiensis specimens in Liang Bua back in 2003. Andrews’ writes how the book is a,

“…fascinating account of how the large-scale, multidisciplinary excavation was set up and run shows just how such an investigation should be conducted. They cover everything: the preliminary groundwork to find out who has to be approached to get permissions, with all the politics and administrative matters that are an unavoidable adjunct to such forms of scientific inquiry; the actual business of excavation and the dating of the deposit; and finally, the process of publishing a description of the fossils and their context. Anyone thinking of undertaking such a project would do well to consult this book.”

Pretty strong endorsement if you ask me.

Andrews goes on to document the significance of the Homo floresiensis Homo floresiensis skeleton from Liang Buaremains, which if you are a follower of paleoanthropology and human evolutionary studies… you should be well aware of its importance. He then turns to gingerly document the controversies that happened between the team that excavated the fossils and

“Teuku Jacob, an Indonesian anthropologist who was not a member of the team, precipitously removed the skull, lower jaw and femur of the Flores woman, along with another lower jaw found at Liang Bua, from the lab where they were being kept. He then restricted access to the specimens and dismissed them as the remains of modern humans with the pathological condition known as microcephaly… Jacob essentially hijacked the remains, claiming falsely that Morwood had agreed to their transfer. The authors also complain that when Jacob finally returned the fossils, the bones had been mishandled and irreparably damaged.”

If Jacob really do this, then I don’t understand why he did. It seems so unethical and immature to jeopardize a critical hominin fossil. As Andrews explains, Morwood and team went thru all the proper channels and got permits to do the excavation. It’s not like they were digging illegally.

What has happened, the bickering between these two camps, has not only seriously damaged the fossils but also the reputation of paleoanthropology. As an someone with an outsider’s perspective on this whole situation, I see how the academic rigor and standards of the discipline are not shared in all places and cultures. People really do have egos larger than the problems and questions about human evolution they are trying to answer. While Andrews claims this book is a,

“well-written, entertaining book is both scholarly and accessible to the general public. Morwood and Oosterzee make the case that the Flores hominins occupy a unique position in human evolution,”

I see this book as another jab at Jacob. Jacob deserves to be reprimanded but there also needs to be some professionalism here. I hope that followers of this blog and future students in paleoanthropology can agree that this type of back and forth finger pointing does not help out our discipline. I really don’t know how Jacob and others who do this to the field should be dealt with but I don’t think it should be taken to this level. So I ask you, should we really be taking the time to write in our books and papers about how some colleagues did us wrong? Feel free to chime in what you think about all this and how to avoid this in the future.

5 thoughts on “Peter Andrews’ review of Morwood’s book – A New Human

  1. The section on Jacob formed a small part of the book, so I don’t really have a problem with it. Had the book been one long rant about Jacob I would have had a problem with it.

  2. Yes. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit – I reviewed it here. The fossils got damaged when Jacob and his team tried to make casts of them.

  3. This is a great story and I think it is premature to dismiss this find based on the analysis of Jacob. Jacob from the start clearly had his own agenda and I agree with Morwood that Jacob’s motivations were suspect. We’ll know more once the original research team gets back to the caves in Flores. Hard to believe, but their work was halted by the Indonesian government at one point. Of course, I have a vested interest in hoping this story has some validity to it, having written a fictional novel on the find. There is more on this ongoing controversy about Homo floresiensis at I have yet to read this book since I have been writing my own fictional account but this article is motivating me to order a copy.

    Erik John Bertel

  4. hi…i’m one of the lumpen proletariate that has come across mike and penny’s book…it’s good that they make such a fuss about jacob’s misconduct to show new people to the field [most of their readers] that there are scientific standards that are vital to maintain – question incompetent authority where you find it… w.

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