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Thread: Study: Hobbit Humans 'Impossible'

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    Study: Hobbit Humans 'Impossible'

    According to a 2004 paper published in the journal Nature, a population of tiny, human-like individuals lived on the remote Indonesian island of Flores thousands of years ago.

    But an international team of researchers, including one scientist who worked on the initial study, now say no evidence supports the theory that so-called "hobbit humans" ever existed.

    The single found skull apparently belonged to a 73-year-old modern human with a brain that was about one-third the normal size.

    The individual lived 18,000 years ago and suffered from microcephaly, a condition causing an abnormally small head, say the authors of the new paper published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Other fossils found with the skull belonged to six or seven other individuals, but these too appear to be from Homo sapiens and not the supposedly new species Homo floresiensis, according to the joint Indonesian, Australian and U.S. research team.

    "I went to Indonesia and personally examined all of the bones," said co-author Robert Eckhardt. "To coin our press release, there are no hobbits in the shire, because the previous findings were entirely implausible."

    Eckhardt, professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology at Pennsylvania State University, and his colleagues base their argument on four main points.

    The first is that for a new species of ancient humans to have evolved on Flores, the population would have to have been isolated. Eckhardt and his team say just over a mile of water separated Flores from other land, and that elephants came over in two migration waves.

    "If elephants could do it twice, surely other humans came more than once to the island," Eckhardt told Discovery News. "The isolation theory is at variance with what we know about the area’s sea level, geology and Stegodon (ancient elephant) population."

    The scientists found "undeniably asymmetrical features" within the skull bones, which they say further supports that the skull belonged to someone with the size-related genetic disorder. They calculated that the individual stood just over 4 feet tall, as opposed to 3 1/2 feet, per the earlier report.

    "Clearly this was not a basketball candidate, but the specimen was not as short as previously reported," Eckhardt said. "People on Flores tend to be of shorter stature even today."

    The scientists also found that the individual's teeth are consistent with those of Rampasasa pygmies now on the island. Finally, asymmetry in some of the leg bones found near the skull further points to microcephaly, which can run in families.

    Robert Martin, provost of The Field Museum in Chicago, told Discovery News that he too investigated the "hobbit human" claims and, "In an independent investigation, we came to the same conclusion as Eckhardt and his team. Stone tools were also found with the bones and these were very sophisticated tools that only Homo sapiens could have made."

    Martin said, "Either the skull belonged to a stunning new hominid or a pathological modern human representing the earliest known evidence for microcephaly in the human fossil record. We agree with Eckhardt and his team that the latter is likely the case."

    He added, "What is remarkable is what this tells us about human societies at the time. This individual would have to have been supported and cared for by others, since the person could never have survived to such an advanced age without assistance."

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