Australian researchers cast doubt 'Hobbit' fossil was new species
A diminutive humanoid fossil found on a remote island in Indonesia was likely a human with miniature features due to a nutritional deficiency, researchers in Australia said in the latest study in an ongoing scientific debate over the small human-like skeletal remains.
Writing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the scientists said a study of a cast of the skeleton of the Homo floresiensis fossil — known as "the Hobbit" — suggest the humanoid likely had cretinism, a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth due to a deficiency of thyroid hormones.
Peter Obendorf of RMIT University in Melbourne and colleagues said the fossil had certain structural features — such as the rotation of the arm bone and an enlarged pituitary gland at the base of the skull behind the nasal region — that matched medical descriptions of cretinism.
He suggested a deficiency of iodine and selenium in the diet of the mother would have increased the risk of the humanoid developing the condition. Because the fossil was found inland, the humanoid's family could have been without access to seafood, an important source of iodine.
Obendorf said the next step of the research would be to look at the actual fossil remains to see if they match their findings from examining the cast.
Since its discovery on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, the one metre-tall fossil, known as LB1, has become the subject of intense scrutiny and debate in the scientific community over whether the humanoid's small size pointed toward a new species or was simply the result of a genetic condition such as dwarfism.
The remains are estimated to date back some 15,000 to 18,000 years.
The fossil was dubbed "the Hobbit" in the media, after the diminutive characters in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels.
A study published in 2007 in the journal Science found that the fossil wrists were far more primitive than either Neanderthals or modern humans, suggesting a new species.
Critics, however, have suggested the fossil's small skull was too small to have accommodated the tool-making intelligence attributed to the humanoid after stone-flaking technology was found at the same site.