Stories & Memories
I was very sorry to hear of the sad passing of Mike Morwood. He always encouraged students to get involved, I think he saw the importance of helping the next generation of archaeologists, and as an undergraduate student it was a real honour to have the opportunity and the support to work on his projects in the remote northwest Kimberleys of WA as well as on Flores, Indonesia.
To me, Mike was a wonderful example of an eccentric elderly professor, with wild grey hair, exciting tales of working in exotic locations and a habit of turning up on dig sites (or disappearing from them) when least expected. He never seemed to care too much about his image, and I’m sure he wore the same old pair of green plastic clogs tramping around rugged outback cliffs to plush conference halls... He was also constantly enthusiastic about archaeology, almost childishly so, and eager to share his passion. Once, during field work in central Flores, Mike took us out to Liang Bua cave and took us down the trenches, up into neighbouring caves and out onto the floodplains to explain everything from dating flowstone, geological formations and the intricacies of the wet-sieving process.
There were many ‘classic Mike’ moments on digs, like the time he came out to the Kimberleys with a well travelled, battered old tent held together only with duct tape, which consistently collapsed on him every single night - not that he seemed to care. I walked past his collapsed tent one morning and he stuck his head out, noted that “Eh, it’s fallen down again”, and went back to sleep. There were also many, many times when, while digging in an art covered rock shelter in the Kimberleys, or taking a lunch break on a bamboo bench perched on the edge of a huge trench in central Flores, Indonesia, that we would look up and see him gazing intently upwards with his head on one side and stroking his chin as he contemplated some archaeological mystery. It’s been an honour to have worked with him, and his passing is a very sad loss indeed.
Yinika Perston, University of New England
Mike Morwood led the research team of Indonesian and Australian scientists that discovered the bones of the archaic and extinct hominin Homo floresiensis in Liang Bua Cave, on the island of Flores, a discovery more popularly known to the world as “the hobbit”. His research on Flores, Java and Sulawesi revolutionised our knowledge of human expansion during the Pleistocene epoch (prior to 12,000 years ago) in the islands of Southeast Asia. As well as Homo floresiensis, he identified stone tools and animal remains in Java and Flores with ages that in some cases approached or even exceeded one million years. Mike is guaranteed a firm and enduring place in the history of archaeology in Southeast Asia and Australia, and will be remembered as an energetic and highly productive colleague. He was a great ambassador for Australian archaeology overseas and was held in very high international esteem. He has many friends and colleagues who will miss his leadership.
Peter Bellwood, Australian National University
I have known Mike for one and a half years since the end of 2011 whin I first met him in CAS. He was wearing his famours cowboy hat, like a typical western folk singer, which gave me an impressive image. This image, however, became a bigand respectful one after I knew that this gentle and friendly elder is the leader of the research team that discovered "the Hobbit". Luckily, I was subsequently involved into the archaeological research projects in Indonesia working with Mike. I gained a lot fo knowledge on the human evolution and archaeology in Indonesia during the collaboration with Mike, through many times of exciting discussion with him.
In October 2012, I was luckily invited to join the fieldwork in Sulawesi, Indonesia, which provided me the first, but sadly the last, chance to work with Mike in the field. Knowing that this is the first time that I have been to Indonesia, Mike was so considerable and helpful to me on all aspects, including accommodation, travel and food. I was deeply impressed by his modesty and patience. He never put on airs of a great scientist, but was full of smiles, and engaged in humorous and witty conversation. My greatest respect on him was, however, set up after knowing that Mike speaks an excellent Indonesian, which means a great hard effort that Mike has invested into his research and interests in working in Indonesia. I just couldn’t imagine how much time that Mike has spent in such a hot and humid tropical country, and how much hard work that Mike has done in the dark, stuffy and wet archaeological trenches, which produced so many ground-breaking and world-famous discoveries. In my mind, this is what a truly great archaeologist in the world that must be! It is my great honour to have known him and have worked with him.
Bo Li, University of Wollongong
Mike Morwood – friend, mentor and luminary on our evolutionary & migratory past.
Mike Morwood was a truly modest and inspirational man of genuine humility and mana (integrity). An expert in Aboriginal rock art, he is perhaps better known around the world for his discovery of Homo floresiensis in 2004 with a team of Australian & Indonesian researchers. This discovery of a new human species on the Island of Flores has subsequently contributed so much to our collective (societal) knowledge of our evolutionary past, changed the very essence of how we see ourselves, and our wider relationship to the environment. Certainly the discovery of H. floresiensis was one of the most astonishing discoveries of the last decade and on the very door-step of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.
Mike through his research has widened our appreciation of the peculiarities associated with human evolution and dispersion, just how our evolutionary ancestors had the capacity to successfully navigate very formidable landscape obstacles while dispersing through SE Asia. Mike nurtured and inspired many younger scientists in his wake (I'm very fortunate enough to be one of those). Mike was particularly good at casually brushing aside the sometimes spiteful controversy that initially surrounded the discovery of the H. floresiensis.
Mike was dedicated to supporting aspiring Indonesian archaeological students who one day would become research leaders in their own right. Mike was also particularly committed to ensure that research information was disseminated 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.
Mike will be sadly missed but his legacy will continue long into the future.
Brent Alloway, Victoria University of Wellington
To the memory of Prof. Mike Morwood
Mike has opened up an entirely new frontier in the field of human evolutionary study in Asia. This field already has a long history of research for more than a century, but recent discoveries by Mike’s team from Flores made us realize how little we still know about our evolutionary past.
With the relative wealth of Homo erectus fossils from Java, Indonesia is one of the handful places for intensive human evolutionary studies. Still, there were big surprises like those!
Through this experience, we are now more flexible and open-minded, and ready to future unexpected discoveries. For me, not only his academic contributions, but also this reshaping of our scientific attitude is one of the most important things he left for us. It is now thrilling to imagine what more will come in the future from Flores and other regions of Asia.
He was passionate, always supportive, and liked to hear different opinions. One of my impressive memories is that when I wrote a paper on cranial morphology of Homo floresiensis in 2011, he was quite enthusiastic about its detailness and thoroughness despite difference in our conclusions. Surely such personal character was behind his successes.
I congratulate his achievements, and thank him for showing us the exciting new frontier.
Yousuke Kaifu, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo
I started at UNE in 2005 wanting to be a history teacher, and took archaeology out of interest. It was Mike teaching Intro to Aboriginal Archaeology that made me want to be an archaeologist, particularly one specialising in Australasian prehistory. At the time, it was only 2 years since the discovery of Homo floresiensis, and he just had such a passion that spread. From then on, it was all about archaeology, and a little bit of earth sciences. I wrote an essay for a third year unit on SE Asian archaeology, and he allowed me to examine some of the tools from Liang Bua and spoke to me about unpublished material and ideas he had. It was experiences like these that have made me passionate about archaeology, and being generous with my time and resources to people newer to the discipline than myself. While I didn't spend a lot of time working with Mike, he did make one main lasting impression on me. Some people seem to consider archaeology as a competition, whereas Mike seemed to be more interested in making it a collaborative and holistic approach. Aside from his academic and scientific achievements; this attitude and approach, I believe, will be one of his great legacies.
Josh Connelly, University of New England
We have indeed lost a good friend and colleague in the passing of Mike Morwood.
Mike was a consummate scholar – a distinguished academic who, with an ARKENAS Indonesian team of archaeologists, achieved the incredible – the discovery of a new hominin species, Homo floresiensis. His other academic achievements were outstanding – his study of Aboriginal prehistory and Australian rock art, his multidisciplinary approach to archaeological studies with Indonesian, Dutch, Australian and American colleagues; his teaching and mentoring of students. I will particularly remember him for his positive attitude to other people’s research ideas and innovations, and his encouragement to proceed.
I will always be grateful to Mike as it was he who provided an exciting opportunity when, with ARKENAS, he invited my colleagues and me to study the Homo floresiensis bones after we published the first paper on the species’ phylogeny. The look of pleasure on Mike’s face as he gazed on the bones will be a lasting memory for me.
Mike’s high energy levels never ceased to amaze me. He did the hard yards in the field achieving his archaeological aims. He took himself off to learn Indonesian when he wanted to start archaeological work there. He was always on the move, organizing things, facilitating projects, liaising with colleagues, ensuring things got done, giving encouragement, but to me he rarely seemed rushed, hurried or harried. He always had time to respond to queries, have a chat, and sort issues. I loved receiving emails beginning ‘Greetings from Jakarta’ or ‘Greetings from (some other exotic place)’ as I sat at my desk in delightful but non-exotic Canberra.
I will miss Mike’s collegiality, keen mind, and smiling face.
Debbie Argue, Australian National University
Professor Michael Morwood, thank you for being an inspiration for archaeology students, including myself. Meeting Michael Morwood in 2006 as an undergraduate was certainly a highlight in my life. Mike had an aura about him that screamed intellect, passion and wisdom. As a student I was pleased to be able to spend time with him and listen to his adventures and discoveries as an archaeologist, including his understanding of rock art, Macassans and Palaeolithic. I remember distinctly how humble he was by introducing me to Thomas Sutikna in 2007, by saying “he is famous, he uncovered the Hobbit”. In 2009 he became my Honours supervisor and although it was not the best thesis in the world, he reassured me and said that at least three journals can come from this honours thesis. Unfortunately we did not do the joint publications like we had planned but certain aspects of my thesis and others will be published at some stage in Mike’s honour. I spoke to Mike five days before his passing and like always, he wanted to know how I was going and he said that I would go far in this profession. Professor Morwood was valuable for Australian and Indonesian archaeology but most of all, he will be missed to the world of archaeology. His legacy will never be forgotten and will live on into the generations of current and future archaeology.
Paul Howard, University of New England