Early People of Palau

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Science  14 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5869, pp. 1459
DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5869.1459a

Diminutive fossils of Homo sapiens, perhaps representing several tens of individuals, have been found in two caves in Palau. The fossils, described by Berger et al., range in age from about 3000 to 1500 years; humans are thought to have arrived on the island from the Philippines (700 km to the west) about 1000 years earlier. The fossils include several complete, small crania still encased in flowstone. Preliminary measurements suggest a brain size near the low end of extant Homo sapiens and close to that of Homo erectus. Measurements of multiple postcranial bones imply a corresponding body size comparable to those of the smallest known H. sapiens and the early hominin Lucy. Although many traits are consistent with H. sapiens, some fossils also exhibit more primitive traits, including minimal chins and an enlarged brow ridge. These traits and some aspects of the teeth and the small body size are similar to those seen in the older, enigmatic diminutive fossils found recently on the nearby island of Flores, which in turn have been ascribed to a relict population of an earlier Homo species. Although any relation between these fossils is not clear, the sample on Palau is further evidence of the extremes in size and characteristics that may develop in isolated island human populations. BH

PLoS One 10.1371/journal.pone.0001780 (2008).

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