Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsMy interest has always been in how humans interact with their ecosystem, what's around us, because we're just part of the overall world. But we're an important part of the world, even more so now. But we have been in the past, too. And we think of ourselves as a unique species. That's true. Now we are unique. We're the only species of Homo, the genus Homo left on the planet. But that's not always been the case. So I have always been fascinated by how we got to be the way we are, the story of us, and the story of our cousins, extinct cousins in the past, and how all of us interacted with the world around us.
Skip to 0 minutes and 43 secondsWe started off in Australia when I first came over here, back in, well, 30 years ago now. And I was interested in how the landscape evolved, and then, later, how people lived on that landscape in the far past, very earliest Australians that we now know about. And then with Mike Morwood, who is a colleague, an archaeological colleague who also worked in Australia. We were thinking, well, how did people get to Australia? They must have passed through what's now Indonesia. But when did people first get to Indonesia? And how did people interact with all of those environmental things they came across, the animals that would have been absolutely new to them. They would never seen anything like these before.
Skip to 1 minute and 16 secondsHow did all of those interactions take place? So Mike and I started off going to Flores looking for the very first sites of our species, the very earliest Homo sapiens sites we could find on Indonesia. And one of the sites we went to was Liang Bua. That was the very first site we went to. It was picked out actually by a Dutch priest who first thought it looked like an interesting site and found some stone tools there. We dug down, and we found the hobbit. So that was a completely unexpected find because we weren't looking for any new human species. We were looking for earliest members of our species.
Skip to 1 minute and 47 secondsBut of course, it led to an amazing story which was totally unexpected. But that's the beautiful thing about scientific discovery in the real world, which is that you get these serendipitous discoveries. You're not looking for it, and it pops up. And it leads you in whole new directions. Suddenly, here's a new species who we would have been around on the planet the same time as. Neanderthals are another one. There might have been some other ones, too. But here's a new one, the hobbit, and a distinctively different one from us. So personally, it was a fascinating journey.
Skip to 2 minutes and 14 secondsAnd we're still going back there now looking for early remains of our species, as well as how we actually interacted with a hobbit and any other species that were wandering around Southeast Asia at the same time. Human evolution is one of those topics that is like eternally fascinating for people. It is a story of our species, how we got to be the way we are now. It's our ancestry written deep back through time. We're interested in who our parents are, who our grandparents are. If you keep tracing it back and back and back, we are all related to each other back there somewhere in the distant past. But how did it all take place? How did it all map out?
Skip to 2 minutes and 50 secondsWhy did it follow that particular path? And why did it not follow another path? Now, those are deeply fascinating questions for anyone, such as the origins of the universe. And really, origin questions are what stimulates people's inner sense. What makes me, me, is actually as much about you as a person as it is about all the ancestry that's written into genes. And all of those genes are things that have been mapped out over the last tens of hundreds of thousands of years. They're back there. But that's what makes us who we are now, what makes me what I am now. So I find those kind of interesting questions. I think most people find them fascinating questions.
Skip to 3 minutes and 24 secondsAnd that's why people are always interested when you come up with a new human skeleton. How does it fit into the human family tree, given the fact we know so little about the human family tree? And that's one of the most-- when I say fascinating, I mean really, deeply engaging parts of archaeology and paleoanthropology. It's something that you can really handle. It's not something vaporous. It's there. You can see a bone. And out of that bone, you might be able to get the genetic code. And from that, you can really start to piece together how we all fit together in the human family tree.
Skip to 3 minutes and 55 secondsAnd how, in many ways, how weird it's been, and how many, kind of, experiments there have been in human evolution that just didn't pan out for whatever reason, and how we as a species have interacted with all of those failed experiments. And did we actually play any part in those failures? It'll be interesting to trace out the human story. But we, of course, we're the winners in the story. And what we want to find out is about all the other things that happened to get us to this point in time.
Why uncover the past?
What makes you ‘you’ is as much about you as a person as it is about the ancestry written in your genes…
Human evolution is an eternally fascinating topic regarding the story of our species that is etched deeply in time. We are interested in who our parents and grandparents are and if you keep tracing our ancestry back, we are all related to each other somewhere in the distant past.
But how did it all take place? How did it all map out? Why did it follow that particular path? And why did it not follow another path?
Have you ever asked the following questions?
- How did we come to be the way that we are?
- What is our story?
- Who are our extinct cousins?
- How did we all interact with the world around us?
- How did the landscape evolve?
- How did the first humans in my country interact with the land?
- How did the first people get to my country?
- What types of interactions took place between the first arrivals, other species and the environment?
The late Prof. Mike Morwood began the journey to answer these questions in 1997/1998 when he travelled to the So’a Basin, 70km east of Liang Bua. Following on from that expedition, a team of archaeologists set out with the intention of looking for ancestors of the earliest members of the human species to reach Australia, they began excavating in Liang Bua - a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores - and found the ‘Hobbit’:
“That’s the beautiful thing about scientific discovery in the real world… you get these serendipitous discoveries. You’re not looking for it, and it pops up. And it leads you in whole new directions. Suddenly, here’s a new species who we would have been around on the planet the same time as… and a distinctively different one from us” (Prof. Bert Roberts)
The fascinating discovery has had significant implications for the world of archaeology and beyond…
We may be the only species of the genus Homo left on the planet. But that’s not always been the case…
Join us on this journey as we use modern archaeological science to trace out the human story and piece together how we all fit together in the human family tree.
What questions about the past do you find most fascinating?
What questions do you hope to have answered throughout this course?
© University of Wollongong, 2018