A hundred of scientists from twenty different countries of Asia, Europe and Australia will meet at Muséum national d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris from 10th to 12th of December 2007 for the International Conference Human origins patrimony studies in Southeast Asia (Asia-Link HOPsea European Program). This international conference aims to develop collaborations between universities and museums in the fields of research and training of young scientists, as well as conservation and valorisation of the patrimony. The priority will be given to the research of the youngest scientists trained within the HOPsea network and on the need for the scientific community to share data and patrimonial funds. The conference is coupled with an international Master module on the Prehistory of the Southeast Asia organized each year by the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle.

Upon this occasion, on December 11, the reconstitution of Homo floresiensis, discovered on the island of Flores (Eastern Indonesia) by an Indonesian and Australian team in Liang Bua cave, will be unveiled at Musée de l'Homme.

Is the fossil that of a pathological Homo sapiens; the descendant of Homo erectus which probably reached the island some 850.000 years ago and whose lithic artefacts only have been recovered from the site of Mata Menge; or, as suggested in a recent study of the wrist bones, the descendant of an even earlier ancestor?

This reconstitution acquired by the collections of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle is the work of Elisabeth Daynès, sculptor in prehistory. For this long work, Elisabeth Daynès collaborated with Jean-Noël Vignal (forensic anthropologist), Harry Widianto (Universitas Gadjah Mada Bulaksumur, Yogyakarta, Indonesia) and Dominique Grimaud-Hervé (MNHN), and her co-workers Céline Verney, Peggy Martin and Théo Jalby.

Beyond the ongoing scientific debate on the phylogenetic position of Homo floresiensis, meeting the woman who lived in Flores during Upper Pleistocene times is striking for the visitor: of course the reduced size of her body, but also several anatomical features of her head and face. The rigorously reconstituted soft parts underline the morphology of the nose, the thinness of the lips related with the projection of the face and the absence of chin, and the projection of the brow ridges.

If the colour of the skin and development of pilosity are based on hypothetical choices which scientists will not dispute, one appreciates the precision obtained by the sculptor for physical characteristics which have been rebuilt from the data published on the fossil. But since researches on environments and behaviour of this hominid are still in progress, the reconstitution calls also for our imagination: at the time we cross her way, the "Flores woman" just picked up a crudely cut stick of bamboo, which everyone is free to imagine the use that she will make.

The reconstitution will be unveiled with other prominent fossils and prehistoric tools which are central to the understanding of the ancient human settlements of the Far East, from the very first discoveries until the most current research.

François SÉMAH (MNHN).

Read the french version here


©Photo P. Plailly / Eurelios
Reconstruction Atelier Daynès Paris