Paige Madison talks about her work at the Liang Bua cave in Indonesia where she studies Homo Floresiensis as well as the team of researchers who have worked at the cave for years, sometimes for generations.

United States


00:00:02in two thousand three team of archaeologists discovered a new hominin species in a cave on the island of Flores in Indonesia this is where big story not only because they were news but also because they were so hello Florence Unisys stood about three feet tall it's two ninety
00:00:28to dogs and Michael Robinson today each Madison talks about her work lean to a key which she studies home of Florence young also the team of researchers who've worked at the cave for years sometimes for generations Madison is a PhD candidate history of science Arizona State University which
00:00:52she also works with the center for biology in society and the institute of human origins she writes about the blog false history she returns to lean %HESITATION a Fulbright scholar this fall Paige Madison thanks so much for talking with me thanks for having me you just got back
00:01:12from a really long archaeological expedition to lean %HESITATION are in Indonesia I was wondering if you could talk about what this place is like and what you were studying there yes so lean burn is a fascinating limestone came on one of the more remote Indonesian islands and island
00:01:30called Florence and many of the scientific community of probably heard of rainbow out because back in two thousand three are a new species of human was discovered there %HESITATION which they named almost four stances and novels and non in nature in two thousand four and you know it
00:01:49was highly debated in a logical community and so it you know a lot of these debates house continued even to the present %HESITATION and so it really is a fascinating place for science and and some of the questions that I'm interested in about controversy in human and things
00:02:07like this I saw a picture of the cave that you posted on your on your blog %HESITATION fossel history it's it's pretty spectacular looking it really is yeah so you know I always tell people that come visit because it is sort of a tourist destination it has long
00:02:24been a tourist destination for Indonesians just because it's a beautiful Kay and it's now sort of on a backpack or transit route across Florida so we do get quite a few tourists coming through and I always tell them you know you can understand what really hominins would have
00:02:38lived here are because it got this beautiful large ceiling and it's very nice and cool in there we call it sort of climate controlled %HESITATION we %HESITATION are means school cave in the local man arriving bridge %HESITATION and %HESITATION it is absolutely you step outside for a moment
00:02:56in the middle of the day and you were hit with this heat wave and it's it's very it's very nice place to be and then go up yeah you were talking on your blog about how these discoveries that happened %HESITATION in the early two thousands which I would
00:03:09love for you to %HESITATION to talk about but that actually it's been a site of great interest for forty or fifty years right there was a Dutch priest tired or they're Hoven who who made some discoveries there in the sixties yeah correct all right and you know what
00:03:25I think is a historian of science dot has been first well the most surprising thing for me in doing this project on lane Bryant and you know second the most fascinating thing %HESITATION I'm not you know I think it came on to a lot of our radar back
00:03:39when questions this was discovered by exactly like you say it caught fire Hogan's attention I believe it even in the late nineteen fifties and they started for more excavations there in the nineteen sixties and the Indonesian government ran archaeological expeditions there in the nineteen seventies and eighties so
00:03:57it really has a long history and what's beautiful about that history is that there's amazing continuity so some of the people that were involved in some of those earlier excavations are so so working out being brought in so they have these wonderful stories to tell about how archaeology
00:04:13has changed in the cave and and how in some ways it's remain the same yeah I am I really like that essay a lot on your on your blog where you talk about the cave as a kind of community of people and before I ask you about that
00:04:29because they actually do want to hear what you have to say I was wondering if you could talk about what these early archaeologists are looking for their I mean they didn't with a looking for the hominid species that you were working on right yeah that's a good question
00:04:43so no I absolutely they they were not which is what makes the story I think for me so interesting so what what we now know about lean but what is not in the last hundred thousand years or more there has been almost continuous occupation by a hominin species
00:04:59now which hominin species it seems to sort of go back and forth so maybe for from about a hundred thousand years ago to we think about fifty thousand years ago almost rescue insist likely with living in and around this case and then there seems to have been a
00:05:13turnover at about fifty thousand years ago and you see modern humans come into the case and modern humans then stayed up until the present you know so so what's fascinating about being poor as it has this wonderful cave floor that preserves the living surface of all of them
00:05:29continuous time period and pretty much any moment you go back into the living for into that time you see evidence of occupation of some human so when they first started doing digging in the nineteen sixties they found things like pottery and very modern human burials and tools and
00:05:48things like this fires that had been used to probably cook things in the cave and then you know so they were really interested in all sorts of questions which are very common sites that you find in Indonesia %HESITATION sort of you know maybe neolithic occupations are and what
00:06:04they didn't realize is the deeper you go the more you kind of get back in time and to really get into this late Pleistocene era where you start to see that turnover and I think what's fascinating is not there actually I guess this is a common phenomenon at
00:06:20archaeological sites but I have not heard of it %HESITATION too much but so they they hit in the nineteen I think in the late nineteen eighties or so what they thought was bedrock what they thought was the bottom of the case and it wasn't until the early two
00:06:35thousands when they restarted excavations and one of the young Indonesian researchers who's been a team leader ever since his name is Thomas unica she challenged this idea that maybe this was a bad rock and he believed that it was sort of a false bottom so he you know
00:06:52he said I think we should try to break through it and go a little bit deeper and see what we find and indeed she was correct and the odd not let us to sort of the deeper layers where where you start to see this wait prices seem completely
00:07:04different world that has from a friend since this it has completely different sort of cast of characters you've got extinct staggered on many elephants all sorts of things like this so so the the discovery of home of Florence insists in two thousand and three at first a it's
00:07:22a very small skeleton that they aren't covered and I was just wondering how how it was that people started to think of this as a separate species how you know how to the figure that out yeah so that's and it's fascinating to hear %HESITATION the crew talk about
00:07:38this because when they first uncovered it it began with the school are and so immediately sort of cleaning off the school they they realize that this creature was small but you know it didn't take them very long to look at the top of that school which is what
00:07:55they were seen to see that the sutures of the skull were closed which means that it's all right %HESITATION and then you know took him a few days to really get the entire skeleton up out of the cave instructor really clean off all the dirt around it because
00:08:09it was quite fragile and once we started doing on looking at the TV they could see that the molars ran for quite worn and of course this means again it is an adult aren't just a very small one so you know they they do say that when they
00:08:24first first found it for a moment it seems so maybe this was a child %HESITATION but that we operate it when they realized that no this this is something else entirely and then the the sort of discovery that it was maybe a new species I think that really
00:08:38unfolded over the next weeks and months as everyone really started to be able to compare it to other specimens and really look at some of the %HESITATION you Laertes of this call you know I'm I was talking to John Hawkes recently about just some of the things going
00:08:55on in paleo anthropology and it's so mind blowing I mean the number of discoveries and the use of genetics you know to to figure out ancient genomes and it just seems so incredibly complicated now %HESITATION with the Denise of ins and home when the lady and do you
00:09:13know or to the science teams working on %HESITATION at to link %HESITATION %HESITATION have a good idea of how this species fits into the kind of human tree yeah you know I think that's the million dollar question not yet no everyone is working on it %HESITATION so there
00:09:33have been some really great %HESITATION very advanced analyses that have come out looking at sort of that particular morphologies of this skeleton trying to decide if it looks a little bit more like Homer rectus which would make sense because they lived on job one not long before then
00:09:49so it's a very close sort of ace in the world but but also in you know we find that they also have these primitive characteristics that sets them apart from home more rectus as we know in Southeast Asia and so I think that's still an open question and
00:10:05of course one way to solve that problem is like you say with genetics and looking at engine DNA and the problem with ancient DNA is that it tends to not do well in these humid hot environments like in Southeast Asia and so on the first census age wise
00:10:24is a perfect candidate to get such DNA you know we've meandered United goes that's much older and things like this but %HESITATION but so far they have not had any luck with the hobbit DNA thus far and not would really help paint a clearer picture I you know
00:10:40if I can just tell you they're working on it every season you know and that and what's amazing about engine denies that technology is changing so dramatically year by year that I think many of us are very confident that you know there might be something possible in the
00:10:54near future whether that's five years from now ten years from now or something but it it but it is kind of the million dollar question and of course yeah we we would like to know who their ancestors were how long they were on this island what the population
00:11:06size was on this island and you know and then questions about did they encounter homo sapiens and that look like if they did was it in the inner tall type situation where they may have done some inter breeding or you know these are all open questions at this
00:11:21moment you are actually a historian of science your PhD student at Arizona State University and yet you're on a active archaeological %HESITATION an anthropological dig what is your job at this site what are you trying to find a great question so yeah definitely unique %HESITATION job in this
00:11:42sense I was trained as an undergraduate at this point the quality and so you know my background is really on early hominin morphology but I did switch to history for my graduate degrees and I think my education has put me sort of in a good position to look
00:11:59at this so I am trying to approach lane blocked from historical perspective of what you know and telling history about something that's essentially still unfolding and so while I'm there I do take a lot of oral histories by some of the folks that have been working at the
00:12:13site for decades some of them am not sometimes can be a slow you know labrys process so you know I try to make sure that everybody you know knows that I have a rin's best interest in mind and not I'm just trying to sort of you know catalog
00:12:30their stories and and get their perspective written down all but you know they're all working they have jobs to do and so often I'm just kind of you know hanging out trying to get to know everybody working on the language %HESITATION because of course the primary language spoken
00:12:45at me and go away is Indonesian are and then also I I kind of have done some odd jobs you know so I try my best to make myself useful which is often quite a funny endeavor so I can because of my training I can help do some
00:13:00sorting of bones %HESITATION and we find all sorts of things that mean go out there's a lot of raccoons there are some bird bones all these things and I can help sort of sort out the jobs from the steamers and basic things like this %HESITATION but then other
00:13:14than that I'm just really there to support the team what's amazing about the team is that they don't need a ton of support %HESITATION because so many of them have been there for so long and so we're always trying to find odd ways for me to be the
00:13:26most useful and in fact this year I served as sort of that our guide for all the tourists that canes and so that was quite interesting but many of the team found that very helpful because %HESITATION many of these tourists speak primarily English and so it was a
00:13:41little bit easier for me to explain what these tourists are walking into because our century they can walk right up to this excavation and they want to know what we're doing and why were there and %HESITATION especially as a story and I can give them a little bit
00:13:53of the backstory and so that was an interesting way to make myself X. %HESITATION actually useful this year so how do you %HESITATION I'm curious how it's like to wear those two hats I mean your historian science you're working with a team of scientists and for those of
00:14:10you know our listeners who don't know this about the history of science it can be a pretty critical analysis let's say of the work and the behavior and the bias bias ease of of scientists themselves sometimes I think scientists think of us as people studying them as anthropological
00:14:31subjects so is that is that a difficult line to to walk yeah I I think it is quite tricky %HESITATION and I think you know I think for all the reasons you would expect you know when I spend months there I mean these are my this is my
00:14:48support group you know this is my friends these are my you know they help me translate they help me figure out how to get to the bank I mean you know this is quite a foreign country and they're really sort of %HESITATION they're supporting me and our team
00:15:04and I'm and they happen to be a wonderful group of people who are always laughing and joking and you know telling stories and so you know you spend a lot of time around that and you sort of end up wanting to write a history that you know doesn't
00:15:19look quite as critical as as the one that you know I think most historians would right %HESITATION but I think I am fortunate in not you know I'm sure lock I've stumbled upon a group of people that are humble enough to know that they're they're only one part
00:15:38of it an enormous global story of anthropology sort of exploding in and of new discoveries happening all the time and that they are really working with the best that they have at this particular moment but this will only be a stepping stone later on so so there is
00:15:56sort of a an amount of humbleness I think that's going on at the team with the team in that case that %HESITATION I'm quite fortunate to observe but that being said I think I do a lot of research on there are quite a lot of oral histories that
00:16:10take a lot of notes and I think a lot of the writing house to come once I return to the United States so that I'll get a little bit of distance process and and things like that yeah I was really struck in talking to John Hawkes about this
00:16:23kind of subject of all these different groups of people who end end up interacting at these sites how interdisciplinary true interdisciplinary it is in it must it must in a way make people half to reach outside of their own discipline to listen other perspectives and negotiate with the
00:16:44other people %HESITATION including as you it sounds to me like you said there's a really robust local local individuals for working at the site as well as local academics is that true exactly yeah there's so many different layers so you have these international researchers were with all these
00:17:00different goals in mind you have people coming to try to collect engine DNA and then you have others that are coming to look at some of the you know bird fossil material and you have sort of all of these competing you know sources of information and therefore specimens
00:17:17and then you have you know you have multiple other layers you have these wonderful local workers that again some of them have been working there since the nineteen seventies and their knowledge of the site is truly you know unsurpassed and then you sort of have a lot of
00:17:32university trained Indonesian natives who who you know they're from a different world than a lot of these local villagers and so you you see this you know all of this interacting and I think exactly like you say sort of our team environment that emphasizes understanding and communication and
00:17:52I think that's what's so fascinating about field science in general right is that you cannot in a lot of these cases you cannot just close down borders you have sort of people of all sorts with all sorts of at goals in mind and things that they're interested in
00:18:09interacting and I think it creates an environment you know that could not be further from the sort of sterile lab environment where you only have certain practitioners is this your first visit to link %HESITATION of %HESITATION have you been there on other occasions nervous actually my second Yasser
00:18:26I've been able to go for the past two field seasons so based about two or three months a year they're usually in the spring %HESITATION they've been kind enough to have me and for the last two and then hopefully for the next few I will be attending as
00:18:41well but %HESITATION but yeah you know I'm I think one of the things I really love most about history of exploration and the kind of questions that it raises is what you know once you travel to place I mean I I have my own kind of dissertation subject
00:18:57that I came up with while I was in graduate school you know sitting in a library about arctic exploration but but then you go to the arctic and it I mean for me at least it really profoundly changed some of the the ways I thought about the place
00:19:11and the people who were there and %HESITATION I felt like it kind of filtered into my work I was wondering if you had I mean it's so yeah I know you're still working on it but do you do you feel that that's true in in your case now
00:19:23absolutely yeah and in in so many ways in fact so my dissertation looks at three different case studies in the history of anthropology trying to compare different time periods asking you know how do we know what we know about what it means to be human I and this
00:19:39just happens to be my most recent case studies so my other case studies are much more historical in nature and in every instance I've found that when I go to the place it dramatically changes how I understand what has happened there and we %HESITATION I think it did
00:19:57that to the extreme for me for a lot of reasons I mean one it changed my trajectory a little bit Sir I'd intended for it to only be one third of the dissertation and it quickly was apparent to me that the story there so worth telling that you
00:20:12know I know how I would start a full right there to spend four year they're in it starting this fall and you know I'm hoping to pursue a post doctoral project on being though it self insert really transform just one part of my story to to hopefully something
00:20:30much bigger and and then yeah absolutely did change once once I got there and I think that's really what's fascinating about him there at the podium learning this more and more insight sort of explore more is not you know the local character of the place has such a
00:20:45dramatic affect on the science it gets done there and sometimes that doesn't show up in the scientific publications and in the stories and so you know I don't think that I was the first researcher to believe this but you know you kind of show up at the site
00:20:59that we've heard all of these you know we've read maybe a a book on almost residences or read about in a text book or seen a documentary and it wasn't clear to me until I got there how strong Indonesian current is there and so this you know sometimes
00:21:19I'm trying to think how to best phrase this but often when a documentary comes in or something they might interview the people that speak English because that's their audience and so it comes off sort of this huge perspective of who's doing the work and who's organizing these excavations
00:21:38and these types of things and once you get there you find that this truly has always been a very Indonesian heavy excavation I'm not quite wonderful because this is a country that you know struggle for independence quite wait in the sort of error of empire and they have
00:21:56this wonderful archaeological history is that all of the sites that we've known about since the nineteenth century and so they've been able to build this discipline op ed I miss the struggles that I think is quite fascinating do you notice any differences in the I mean I don't
00:22:14know what the scientific team whether they're Americans coming over or Europeans but do you notice differences in culture between the groups of anthropologists or something that's so unique about the the local anthropological traditions as you say that are so strong there yeah yeah I think I you know
00:22:33I think it's changed over the years so when this project did re start up again in two thousand one it was a joint Indonesian Australian team and so a lot of those original team members are there still but a lot of those hands have shifted a little bit
00:22:48%HESITATION and so so now you know it's it is loud still like I mentioned by Thomas Studenica who is from a he was trained in in Jakarta Indonesia and then he got his PhD actually Australia just a few years ago %HESITATION and then now it's cold loud by
00:23:05a man originally from Canada I'm not to sure and they you know they have this great system there I think that's been sort of it's sort of like %HESITATION being brought culture I would describe it does and I think one of the things I noticed about this culture
00:23:20right off the bat is that there's a sort of laid back nature that as Americans we are often very uncomfortable with but I think but you see it often in Indonesian culture in general there sort of there's less of a feeling of we need to hurry and we
00:23:39need to stress out about whether we're gonna get this permit in time and all of these things and in fact there's just you know there's a lot of smiling there's a lot and there's a lot of faith that these things will work out and indeed it turns out
00:23:53they do we so I think a lot of us that when we visit of international researchers we kind of joke about it so I think you know sometimes when you come for the first time to lean go out as part of the team you may only get a
00:24:07certain amount of information like okay you're gonna fly in here and we'll make sure someone's going to pick you up at the airport and that's all you get you know and you just kind of you don't know who's going to get you and you don't know where you're
00:24:19going you just have to learn to go with the flow and again the Americans joke but sometimes it takes us awhile but it turns out that it's it's a wonderful way to approach you know daily activities it's quite less stressful so I think that that kind of cracks
00:24:35me up you are an incredible force of nature when it comes to science communication you have this great blog fossel history which somehow you manage to do while you're doing your PhD work and traveling to engine Indonesia I don't exactly do that they do you but since you
00:24:53are so plugged in to science communication is there %HESITATION Indonesian equivalent for that in limbo you know not yet and this year we were talking a lot about what that might look like and you know whether or not it's feasible you know all these things come down to
00:25:09resources and you know time and energy and so you know it's always an interesting question of who might be interested in sort of pursuing these types of activities and again you spoke to John Hawkes recently are and Houston some wonderful work on this for a long time and
00:25:27she admitted on this podcast that he spends I think you said almost a quarter of his time doing injured and and it's quite wonderful but you know it does take time like you like you mentioned and from my work as well and I'm fortunate enough to be funded
00:25:43at the moment buy that John Templeton foundation and they value my public outreach and so they have included that as part of my development as it's as a scholar and that's something they expect for me so that is quite nice for me to no longer in addition to
00:25:57my PhD has become inter woven a little bit %HESITATION and I think that's a big issue right wing %HESITATION I you know and that was why it was so perfect for me to sort of be the Torstar guide is by you know people are trying to do the
00:26:10work and they're only there for two months at a time and they've got a lot of digging to do a lot to analyze and you know I had to take time away it's it's always a struggle of of who is who is able to sort of make those
00:26:25sorts of decisions about their time and you know we love to seeing how all sorts of live broadcasts and some of the wonderful things that they've done in South Africa within the lady excavations but you've also got all these local factors as well you know internet in Indonesia
00:26:41it's very hard to come by this part of sort of eastern Indonesia and so you know I think it'll be interesting to see how it develops over the next few years but that is something I see changing quite a bit %HESITATION apology there seems to be a lot
00:26:53of live from the field type updates now which I yeah wonderful %HESITATION but it's also you know it is it is a job in and of itself so yeah and so what do you think %HESITATION going forward your day to day world going to be like a you
00:27:08just you gonna be bribing like crazy are you actually doing more research back home are you going to continue with the site com stuff this year yeah yeah I think the science communication will always be a future for me mostly because you know as long as I can
00:27:23remember I have just been a fan of paleontology and so I'm just so excited about it that I just want to share it unfortunately I novel platform in which I can do that and so that's wonderful so I I think I'll continue with that and then yes the
00:27:37summer I am writing like crazy I do hope to graduate in the next year and a house so that's something that's on the horizon and then as I mentioned I do start the Fulbright %HESITATION this year which will be absolutely wonderful because all spend a lot of time
00:27:51working on the Indonesian language and being able to better communicate with some of these local team workers spot you know how wonderful stories and and just haven't written them down and don't don't see the value in writing them down and you know I I'm constantly there tell them
00:28:07that the scientific community wants to hear what they have to say %HESITATION and so that'll kind of being the next year and and hopefully I'll get really fascinating insights about sort of this development of anthropology in Indonesia and take a really close look at at this deeper history
00:28:23when you go about the plan so you know I was talking to Maria Nugent from the Australian National University a and you recently I I just came back and %HESITATION I think actually %HESITATION up her podcast will probably air for this one does and she works on aboriginal
00:28:40history and she said it's a sensitive issue in Australia because you don't want to seem like you're this person is just rolling in with their set of questions and you're gonna yeah you can ask them to fill in the blanks you know in your own project but %HESITATION
00:28:54she said you know I'm trying to understand what they think is valuable about understanding what's what do they want to be remembered you know and I was wondering if if that's true also may be with with your project exactly yeah I think I think that's you know I
00:29:12think that's one of things it's fascinating as a historian is sort of watching people become more aware of the local wants and needs and research interests are because of course there's a terrible history and anthropology %HESITATION taking specimens of stealing whether it's fossel your bones are DNA and
00:29:35this is kind of a conversation of on going in the field is you know how do we balance sort of the questions that maybe we personally or I personally were an ancient DNA researcher personally want answered with you know what that what the people themselves that live there
00:29:52want known or studied or what date out you are and I think yeah I think it is quite a trick you sort of our line to walk and I know for my project especially that's part of why I'm really trying to emphasize longevity there so I didn't try
00:30:09to come in one field season and sort of get some you know get my questions answered and leave I immediately realize that there's extreme value in the story that they want told being told and that requires a little bit of longevity and it requires a lot of time
00:30:26there %HESITATION requires continued visits and %HESITATION it requires really taking time to understand their perspective and so that's really one of my major goals %HESITATION especially for a site where you know people were arguing all over the world almost rescue and I really want to not be speaking
00:30:44for anyone necessarily but for the first time I think really allow a large group of people speak for themselves about what it is they found and what they think H. medicine thank you so much has been great thank you for talking with nothing so much for having me
00:31:01that's it for today is it was composed by surprise make sure you check out the time to get the dogs website podcast links other exploration related stuff if you get the chance please take a minute to rate and review the show every you get your podcasts really helps
00:31:19make the show visible to new listeners and if you want to recommended gaster make a comment feel free to contact me at time to eat the dogs that's one word lower case at G. mail dot com see you next week

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