New paper argues against claims of Hobbit Down Syndrome theory

Skull of LB1. Source: The Conversation 20150210

A new paper in PNAS tears down the arguments made last year in the same journal about the Hobbit being a human with Down Syndrome. The arguments centre around the attributes of LB1 and LB6’s chins. The Conversation piece by the same authors breaks it down nicely.

Skull of LB1. Source: The Conversation 20150210
Skull of LB1. Source: The Conversation 20150210

Down syndrome theory on Hobbit species doesn’t hold to scrutiny
The Conversation, 10 February 2015

Mandibular evidence supports Homo floresiensis as a distinct species
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1418997112

Henneberg et al. (1) and Eckhardt et al. (2) present another pathology-based alternative to the hypothesis that the “hobbit” fossils from Liang Bua, Indonesia, represent a distinct hominin species, Homo floresiensis. They contend that the Liang Bua specimens are the remains of small-bodied humans and that the noteworthy features of the most complete specimen, LB1, are a consequence of Down syndrome (DS). Here, we show that the available mandibular evidence does not support these claims.

Absence of chins in the two mandibles recovered at Liang Bua, LB1 and LB6, is a key issue (1, 3). That these specimens lack chins has been argued to preclude their attribution to Homo sapiens, because a chin is widely accepted to be a defining characteristic of our species (3). Henneberg et al. reject this argument on the grounds that a chin is often absent in living Australo-Melanesians. However, the evidence they present does not support their assertion regarding Australo-Melanesian mandibular morphology. One of two studies they cite has not been peer reviewed (the publication is just a conference abstract), whereas the other one has been severely criticized (4). Henneberg et al. also imply that a mandible from Roonka, Australia, supports their claim, but a CT scan of this specimen shows that it has a positive chin (Fig. 1). Thus, there is no reason to believe that living Australo-Melanesians often lack chins and therefore no reason to overturn Brown and Tomoko’s (3) assessment that the absence of chins in LB1 and LB6 precludes their attribution to H. sapiens.

The link to the paper here.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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