Studying Hobbits in Indonesia
Paige Madison, a PhD candidate at the Center for Biology and Society is finishing up the final months of her year-long Fulbright research fellowship in Indonesia, working on a project concerning the bones of the Indonesian “hobbit” (Homo floresiensis) and the history of anthropology on the archipelago.
Paige has been in Indonesia since November of 2018, splitting her time between the islands of Java and Flores, the latter of which is the home of H floresiensis. Late last year, Paige embarked on a language study program to learn Indonesian, as part of the Fulbright award. Paige completed three months of language study at a school in Yogyakarta, Central Java, taking classes that included introductions to Indonesian culture and field trips to local temples.
After completing her language training, Paige moved to Jakarta to work with the Homo floresiensis research team at the national archaeological research center (Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional), where she collected oral history interviews and began organizing the archival portion of her research. These interviews gave Paige a deeper look into the construction of the discipline in the twentieth century, as well as the development of research at Liang Bua, a limestone cave on island of Flores.
Paige published some fascinating articles during her time in Indonesia. First, she wrote a story for National Geographic magazine about Liang Bua and the latest research emerging out of its hobbit site (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/03/hobbit-humans-story-gets-twist-from-thousands-of-rat-bones/). For the story, which detailed the use of rat bones for inferring climatic shifts in prehistoric Flores, Paige interviewed the H floresiensis research team. By interviewing the study’s co-authors in Indonesian, she was able to include the local, as well as the international, perspectives in the article. Additionally, Paige published an article on previous research she conducted in South Africa, titled “All things bleak and bare beneath a brazen sky: practice and place in the analysis of Australopithecus.” (https://rdcu.be/byroS)
Paige also made occasional trips to historic anthropological sites across the island of Java. Those sites revealed some of the most famous human ancestor fossils in anthropology’s history. Paige visited the site of Trinil, where the Java Man fossils were discovered, as well as the site of Sangiran, which has the highest density of Homo erectus fossils found anywhere in the world.
Paige began another phase of her research in June, when she traveled to Flores to join the team at Liang Bua for their field season. This is the third season that Paige spends with the team. There, Paige collected extensive oral history interviews from the local team members—who are also teaching her a bit of the local language, Bahasa Manggarai.
Paige also presented her research at a Fulbright orientation, to an audience of Fulbright fellows and scholars, as well as local university students. There, she co-lead a workshop for Indonesian recipients of scholarships in the United States, guiding them through the process of obtaining a Master’s degree.
Continuing her science outreach efforts, Paige recently received two grants to further the communication of the science of human evolution in Indonesia, one from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, on which she as a co-collaborator with Dr. Matthew Tocheri, and another from The American Indonesian Exchange Foundation. These public engagement awards funded new explanation panels on display at Liang Bua and started a lecture series at the site.
Paige continues to practice science outreach both online and in-person, with a blog (fossilhistorypaige.com) and a Twitter account. She also guides tourists through Liang Bua and shares background and contextual information about the discoveries.
Looking ahead, Paige will continue carrying out research at the field site through August, after which she and some of the research team will return to Jakarta. There she will begin an archival digitization project at the research center. In the fall, Paige will also embark on a journey around Indonesia to share a traveling exhibit of H floresiensis that includes information and replicas of the discoveries. Madison has received a top-up fellowship from the School of Life Sciences, allowing her to wrap up her time in Indonesia and finish processing her research for the remainder of 2019, while returning to ASU in November.
The Center for Biology and Society is very proud of Paige and her accomplishments! We look forward to having her back with us!