The “hobbit” may have just had Down's syndrome
The latest research on controversial hominid species Homo floresiensis points to a new hypothesis on its origins. The research says that the fragmented skeletal remains of the species – also known as “the hobbit” – are not a separate species of early human, just a modern human with Down's syndrome.
Since its discovery in 2004 on the Indonesian island of Flores, H. floresiensis has been at the centre of a bitter dispute among scientists regarding its unique characteristics. These characteristics comprise of an unusually small skull, shortened thigh bones and an assortment of other small clues. Some scientists believed that the skeleton suffered from a congenital disorder based on the relatively recent evolutionary timeframe in which it lived – about 18,000 years ago. Other scientists believed the evidence suggested island dwarfing.
But a team of researchers has spent nearly a decade working on the skeletal remains and have offered up a new story. What they have found out is that the original data on the skull volume and stature were underestimated. Once the skull had been cleaned out, the skull’s volume increased significantly, and the shortened thigh bones do not necessarily point to island dwarfing since this can be indicative of Down's syndrome as well.
In addition, there were left-right facial disparities, known as craniofacial asymmetry, which are characteristic of developmental disorders. And in the DNA extracted from the skeleton, only sequences of modern human type has been found.
Published in two papers by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new evidence forms a strong case for the diagnosis of Down syndrome.