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'Hobbit' Human had Down syndrome: Researchers

Aug 05, 2014 08:27 AM EDT
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The ancient "hobbit" human was suffering from Down syndrome, suggests a new study.

The fossil bones were found in 2004 at an excavation site in the island of Flores in Indonesia. The researchers had then said that they have found a new species of humans, which they later dubbed as Homo floresiensis. The skeletal remains were nicknamed as "The Hobbit".

Initial analysis of the bones of the human called LB1 showed that its skull was about a third of the size of an average human living in the region. Also, studies on the fragmented thigh bone showed that the person might have been around 3 1/2 feet tall, Discovery News reported. LB1 lived nearly 15,000 years ago.

"The skeletal sample from Liang Bua cave contains fragmentary remains of several individuals. LB1 has the only skull and thighbones in the entire sample," said Robert B. Eckhardt, professor of developmental genetics and evolution at Penn State, according to a news release.

A latest analysis of the bones suggests that the human wasn't a new species, but had a developmental disorder. People suffering from Down syndrome have deformed skulls and short thigh bones.

The researchers have reported the study findings in two papers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team said that the several characteristics of LB1 bones are unusual, but not unique.

"When we first saw these bones, several of us immediately spotted a developmental disturbance," said Eckhardt in a news release, "but we did not assign a specific diagnosis because the bones were so fragmentary. Over the years, several lines of evidence have converged on Down syndrome."

The latest study, researchers say, adds to the literature that reports that LB1 did not belong to a separate line of humans.

The debate over the origins of LB1 has been going on for about a decade now. Other researchers have posted several rebuttals to claims made by researchers working on the skeletal remains, "When this one is refuted, and it will be, then they'll find something else," said Dean Falk of Florida State University and the School for Advanced Research NBC News. "It's good to have people who can be skeptical, but this is turning into a circus."

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