Homo floresiensis: scientists clash over claims ‘hobbit man’ was modern human with Down’s syndrome
The Guardian, 17 August 2014
A furious international dispute has erupted over the publication of a paper that claims the hobbit man of Flores was a modern human who had Down’s syndrome. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this month, the research has been denounced by scientists around the world. The tiny Homo floresiensis, discovered on Flores, an island in Indonesia, is definitely a member of a distinct ancient species of hominins, they insist.
The dispute has its roots in an expedition by Australian and Indonesian researchers in 2003. The scientists were working in a limestone cavern called Liang Bua, on Flores, when one uncovered a small skull and lower jaw. Although tiny, the skull had adult teeth. “This was no child, but a tiny adult – one of the smallest adult hominins ever found,” the expedition leader, the late Mike Morwood, of Australia’s University of Wollongong, announced.
Other remains were dug up and identified as those of a hominid species they called Homo floresiensis. But one small group of scientists has persistently disputed this claim, arguing that the bones really belong to a modern human with anatomical abnormalities. It is their most recent claim, that the Flores hobbit had Down’s syndrome, that has enraged fossil experts who insist the tiny bones are those of distinct lineage. “It is interesting their paper contains no images of skeletons of Down’s syndrome individuals,” said floresiensis expert Professor Dean Falk, of Florida State University. “If it had, you would see clearly that they look nothing like the Flores specimen. The idea is nonsense.”
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