for National Geographic News
The "hobbits" that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until at least 18,000 years ago were not a distinct species of early human, a new analysis of the fossils suggests.
The hobbit remains were first proposed as a new species in 2004 after a single skull and the bones of several individuals were found on Flores.
Homo floresiensis, as the new species has been called, stood little more than three feet (one meter) tall and had a skull the size of a grapefruit.
But according to the latest analysis, the bones from the Liang Bua cave are not those of a separate species but are consistent with a modern population of pygmieshumans with an average height of less than five feet (one and a half meters)living on the island today.
Robert Eckhardt is a professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology at Pennsylvania State University in University Park and a study co-author.
"We think the area is populated by people of short stature, and the Liang Bua cave sample in general is equivalent with that short stature," Eckhardt said.
The new study also says that the prototype hobbit skeleton, identified as LB1, belonged to an individual who suffered from microcephaly, a disease that causes smaller than normal heads and brains.
"The LB1 individual is very likely shorter because of the developmental abnormalities that are visible to us," Eckhardt added.
He and his colleagues present their argument in a study published online today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
When H. floresiensis was first dubbed a new human species, scientists were stunned, because it suggested that hobbits existed well after modern humans had evolved. Only three other early human species are believed to have interacted with modern humans.
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