Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bone parts don't add up to conclusion of Palauan dwarfs

Scott M. Fitzpatrick1*, Greg C. Nelson2, Geoffrey Clark3
1 Department of Sociology & Anthropology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, United States of America, 2 Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, United States of America, 3 Archaeology and Natural History, Division of Society and Environment, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Acton, Australia


Current archaeological evidence from Palau in western Micronesia indicates that the archipelago was settled around 3000–3300 BP by normal sized populations; contrary to recent claims, they did not succumb to insular dwarfism.


Previous and ongoing archaeological research of both human burial and occupation sites throughout the Palauan archipelago during the last 50 years has produced a robust data set to test hypotheses regarding initial colonization and subsequent adaptations over the past three millennia.

Principal Findings

Close examination of human burials at the early (ca. 3000 BP) and stratified site of Chelechol ra Orrak indicates that these were normal sized individuals. This is contrary to the recent claim of contemporaneous “small-bodied” individuals found at two cave sites by Berger et al. (2008). As we argue, their analyses are flawed on a number of different analytical levels. First, their sample size is too small and fragmentary to adequately address the variation inherent in modern humans within and outside of Palau. Second, the size and stature of all other prehistoric (both older and contemporaneous) skeletal assemblages found in Palau fall within the normal parameters of modern human variation in the region, indicating this was not a case of insular dwarfism or a separate migratory group. Third, measurements taken on several skeletal elements by Berger et al. may appear to be from smaller-bodied individuals, but the sizes of these people compares well with samples from Chelechol ra Orrak. Last, archaeological, linguistic, and historical evidence demonstrates a great deal of cultural continuity in Palau through time as expected if the same population was inhabiting the archipelago.


Prehistoric Palauan populations were normal sized and exhibit traits that fall within the normal variation for Homo sapiens—they do not support the claims by Berger et al. (2008) that there were smaller-bodied populations living in Palau or that insular dwarfism took place such as may be the case for Homo floresiensis.

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