for National Geographic News
A tiny, hobbit-like human that lived on a remote Indonesian island 18,000 years ago was a member of its own unique species and was not a diseased human, according to a new study of the hominin's skull.
When discovery of the so-called hobbit—technically known as LB1—was announced in 2004, scientists hailed it as a new species: Homo floresiensis.
(Related: "Hobbit-Like Human Ancestor Found in Asia" [October 27, 2004].)
Other scientists argued the hobbit is a modern human with a genetic disease called microcephaly, which causes the formation of small brains.
The ensuing debate has led to several comparisons between the hobbit's brain and those of modern microcephalics. Some teams conclude LB1 is diseased; others conclude LB1 represents a new species.
(Related: "Hobbit Humans Were Diseased, Not New Species, Study Says" [May 18, 2006].)
The new study aimed to resolve the debate by defining the brain characteristics that distinguish "normal" modern humans from microcephalics. The authors then determined where the hobbit brain fits.
"LB1 plops right down with normal Homo sapiens," said Dean Falk, an anthropologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee and the study's lead author.
"LB1 also has specific features that are derived and advanced and that makes it unique," she added.
(The research was supported by a grant from the National Geographic Society. National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)
Falk's team first compared 3-D reconstructions of ten normal human brains and nine microcephalic brains.
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