This week’s been abuzz with another Hobbit story again, this time saying that the diminutive bones belong to malnourished humans rather than a new species. The paper, written by two Australian researchers in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, B: Biological Sciences, posits a new theory that the hobbits were sufferers of dwarf cretinism.
Are the small human-like fossils found on Flores human endemic cretins?
Peter J. Obendorf, Charles E. Oxnard, Ben J. Kefford
Fossils from Liang Bua (LB) on Flores, Indonesia, including a nearly complete skeleton (LB1) dated to 18kyr BP, were assigned to a new species, Homo floresiensis. We hypothesize that these individuals are myxoedematous endemic (ME) cretins, part of an inland population of (mostly unaffected) Homo sapiens. ME cretins are born without a functioning thyroid; their congenital hypothyroidism leads to severe dwarfism and reduced brain size, but less severe mental retardation and motor disability than neurological endemic cretins. We show that the fossils display many signs of congenital hypothyroidism, including enlarged pituitary fossa, and that distinctive primitive features of LB1 such as the double rooted lower premolar and the primitive wrist morphology are consistent with the hypothesis. We find that the null hypothesis (that LB1 is not a cretin) is rejected by the pituitary fossa size of LB1, and by multivariate analyses of cranial measures. We show that critical environmental factors were potentially present on Flores, how remains of cretins but not of unaffected individuals could be preserved in caves, and that extant oral traditions may provide a record of cretinism.
Here’s an overview of the news stories that have come out this week:
- Are the small human-like fossils found on Flores human endemic cretins (Original article)
- Is the hobbit just a dwarf cretin? (ABC News in Scienc, 05 March 2008)
- Hobbit humanoids were ‘dwarf cretins’ (Melbourne Herald Sun, 05 March 2008)
- UWA Academics claims hobbits not a new species (News.com.au, 05 March 2008)
- (National Geographic News, 06 March 2008)
- Hobbits may be malnourished humans (Science Alert, 06 March 2008)
- ‘Hobbit’ humanoids were dwarf cretins, say Scientists (Sydney Morning Herald, 06 March 2008)
If you read closely, a common criticism with the paper is that the study based its results on second-hand data, without actual examination of the fossils remains themselves. This has led to quite a bit of comments from other researcher-bloggers, (who, I might add are far more competent than me to do so) on the speculative nature of the theory:
- Afarensis weighed in early on the paper in Homo floresiensis: The Argument Continues, with a lot of good comments in the post
- … and later makes his thoughts known in Homo floresiensis: How Did This Dreck Get Published?
- Were Homo floresiensis just a population of myxoedematous endemic cretin Homo sapiens? (Anthropology.net)
– A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia by M. Morwood and P. van Oosterzee
– Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg