Vale Mike Morwood: archaeology star dies

By Jacqueline Outred 7 November 2013
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An Australian archaeologist who discovered ‘the Hobbit’ has lost his battle with cancer.

An Australian archaeologist who discovered ‘the Hobbit’ has lost his battle with cancer.

THE ARCHAEOLOGY COMMUNITY IS in mourning after losing Professor Mike Morwood, to cancer on Tuesday.

The New Zealand-born archaeologist became well-known worldwide when his research team discovered remains of the “Hobbit” species of human, Homo floresiensis, on Flores Island, Indonesia in 2004.

The significance of Morwood’s discovery has been compared to the discovery of the Neanderthals in the 19th century. It caused archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists to redefine what they thought they knew of human evolution.

It was a discovery that “contributed so much to our collective knowledge of our evolutionary past, changed the very essence of how we see ourselves, and our wider relationship to the environment,” says Dr Brent Alloway from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

As the tributes flood in, Mike is remembered as a generous man who was committed to sharing his knowledge and understanding with others, educating the wider public, and nurturing the growth of future research leaders.

History rewritten by “Hobbit” human

Mike was particularly committed to sharing this knowledge, “disseminating it to the Indonesian public, right down to the local villager…so everyone had a good sense of their history and of those people in Flores who had passed long before them,” Brent told Australian Geographic.

Mike, who had been based at the University of Wollongong, is fondly remembered locally for his extensive contributions to Australian archaeology and Aboriginal rock art.

He completed his PhD on the rock art and archaeology of Queensland at the Australian National University in 1980 and went on to undertake positions at a number of universities, including the University of Western Australia, where he focused on the rock art of the Kimberley.

Professor Alistair Paterson, from the University of Western Australia, says, “Mike Morwood was an exceptional archaeologist and researcher, a generous expert in rock art, human evolution, and Australian archaeology. In the areas he chose to focus he was inevitably a ‘game changer’, one of a rare group of Australian researchers who made an extraordinary contribution to their field.”

In 2012, Mike received the Association’s Rhys Jones Medal for his Outstanding Contribution to Australian Archaeology. He leaves many inspired young scientists in his wake, including Brent who counts himself fortunate to have known Mike.

“He will be sadly missed,” Brent says, “but his legacy will continue long into the future.”

— Text by Jacqueline Outred.