Nearly a decade ago, researchers discovered the remains of what was thought to be a new human species and dubbed the "Hobbit" human for its short stature and small skull.
While the 2004 discovery on the Indonesian island Flores was hailed as "the most important find in human evolution for 100 years" at the time, more recent analysis debunks that Homo florensiensis was a distinct human species. A team of international researchers now think the 15,000-year-old bones represent someone who had Down syndrome.
"The skeletal sample from Liang Bua cave contains fragmentary remains of several individuals," Robert Eckhardt, a developmental genetics and evolution professor at Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement. "[This skeleton specifically] has the only skull and thighbones in the entire sample."
The skull of LB1 (left) compared to another skull found on the island. (Image source: Naturalis Biodiversity Center via Penn State University)
The bones of the skeleton, which was named LB1, only put the person at 3.5 feet tall. That and measurements of its skull were initially what led scientists to consider it a possible new species. But Eckhardt now say that the skull "falls in the range predicted for a modern human with Down syndrome from the same geographic region." The thigh bone, which was used to estimate the person's height, also would be shorter in a person with Down syndrome, the researchers pointed out.
In this case, Eckhardt said that "unusual does not equal unique."
A model of what was called Homo floresiensis at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. (Image source: Ryan Somma/Flickr)
"The originally reported traits are not so rare as to have required the invention of a new hominin species," he added.
As opposed to the skeleton representing a "Hobbit"-like species, Ekhardt said they found the "less strained explanation is a developmental disorder."
The findings were published this week in two papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(H/T: Science Daily)
Front page image via Ryan Somma/Flickr.