The ‘Hobbit’ skeleton might not belonged to an extinct species of early human, but rather a modern human with Down syndrome, a controversial new study suggests. Uncovered in 2003 on the island of Flores in Indonesia, the ‘Hobbit’ skeleton was found among the partial remains of nine other skeletons and a series of stone tools. Described by anthropologists as “the most extreme human ever discovered”, the almost-complete Hobbit skeleton was attributed to a new species of primitive human, named Homo floresiensis, based on the significant physical differences between it and the modern human species, Homo sapien.
But now researchers led by anthropologist Maciej Henneberg from the University of Adelaide in South Australia have considered these physical differences in a new light, noting that they are consistent with features that are typical of a modern Down syndrome patient.
According to Bianca Nogrady at ABC Science Online, the H. floresiensis skeleton, also known as ‘LB1’, was of “a one-metre-tall adult figure with a small skull, asymmetrical features, shortened upper leg bones, and large flat feet”. Comparing the skeleton’s height, limb and torso measurements, and previously unpublished skull measurements to those of a modern adult with Down syndrome, Henneberg and his colleagues found a convincing match. Other factors such as facial asymmetry and notable wear on the skeleton’s teeth further strengthened the connection.
The team found another connection, thanks to previous studies on the H. floresiensis skeleton that suggested the physical differences were the result of hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a disorder in which the thyroid gland – situated just in front of the throat – does not produce enough thyroid hormone, leading to delays in growth and intellectual development in children. A common cause of hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency.
While this theory didn’t quite fit the physical characteristics of the H. floresiensis skeleton, Henneberg’s team says it does lend credence to their Down syndrome theory. “About one-third, if not 40 percent, of Down syndrome patients are hypothyroid and Down syndrome is classically related to small head circumference, so it all clicked together in my head,” Henneberg told Nogrady at the ABC. “Every bone characteristic fits Down syndrome and does not fit anything else.” Via The ‘Hobbit’ was a human with Down syndrome, not a separate species