Ancient Bones of Small Humans Discovered in Palau

March 10, 2008

Thousands of human bones belonging to numerous individuals have been discovered in the Pacific island nation of Palau.

Some of the bones are ancient and indicate inhabitants of particularly small size, scientists announced today. (See pictures of the Palau remains and where they were found.)

The remains are between 900 and 2,900 years old and align with Homo sapiens, according to a paper on the discovery. However, the older bones are tiny and exhibit several traits considered primitive, or archaic, for the human lineage.

"They weren't very typical, very small in fact," said Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Berger was on vacation in 2006, kayaking around rocky islands about 370 miles (600 kilometers) east of the Philippines, when he found the bones in a pair of caves.

(Watch video: "Ancient Little People Found?")

The caves were littered with bones that had been dislodged by waves and piled like driftwood. Others had remained buried deep in the sandy floor, and more, including several skulls, were cemented to the cave walls.

Berger returned later that year with colleagues to excavate some of the remains with funding from the National Geographic Society. (National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.)

A paper to appear tomorrow in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE describes the findings and what they suggest about small-bodied humans.

Interpreting the Bones

Two sets of human bones were found in the Palauan caves. The most recent remains were found near the entrance to one of the caves and appear normal in size. Older bones found deeper in the caves are stranger and much smaller.

The smaller, older bones represent people who were 3 to 4 feet (94 to 120 centimeters) tall and weighed between 70 and 90 pounds (32 and 41 kilograms), according to the paper.

Continued on Next Page >>


SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES

ADVERTISEMENT

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S PHOTO OF THE DAY

NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.