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Date: March 04, 2008 09:17PM
Dwarf cretins or
new human species: two academic tribes go to war
The prehistoric hobbit-sized people who lived on
the Indonesian island of Flores were modern humans suffering from the results of
an iodine deficiency, and not a new human species, Australian scientists
But the study has been dismissed as "complete nonsense" and a
"travesty" by members of the discovery team, as well as independent
It is the latest salvo in a scientific stoush that erupted within days of the
2004 announcement that remains of the metre-tall people, named Homo
floresiensis, had been discovered by Australian and Indonesian researchers in a
The discovery team and other researchers believe the diminuitive people, who
lived on Flores between 95,000 and 12,000 years ago, were the descendants of
more primitive humans, such as australopithecines.
Some other scientists have claimed they were modern people with small brains due
to a condition called microcephaly.
In the latest paper, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society,
researchers at the University of Western Australia and RMIT University argue a
new theory: that the hobbits could have been dwarf cretins as a result of
nutritional deficiencies, including a severe iodine shortage during
"Dwarf cretins grow not much more than one metre and their bones have
distinctive characteristics very similar to those of the Flores hobbits,"
said Dr Peter Obendorf of RMIT University.
A key piece of their evidence is the claim that part of the skeleton that houses
the pituitary glands appeared to be enlarged in LB1, the first fossil found in
But a member of the discovery team, Peter Brown, of the University of New
England, said this was not the case.
The new study was "complete nonsense and without a glimmer of factual
support," Professor Brown told the Herald.
Colin Groves, of the Australian National University, who was not a member of the
discovery team, said many of the claims in the new paper lacked evidence.
"I am very very distressed to see such reputable scientists involved in
such a travesty," Dr Groves told the Herald.
AFP reports: The University of New England team theorised that the little people
may have been descendants of prehistoric hominids, Homo erectus, who reached
Flores nearly 1 million years ago.
They are trying to have the hobbits enshrined as a separate branch of the human
Marooned from the rest of the world, the hominids evolved a small stature to
cope with the available supplies of food. Stone tools and animal remains showed
they were skilled in hunting, toolmaking and butchering.
Indeed, the species was so successful, went the argument, that for many years
the hobbits lived side-by-side with the bigger-brained Homo sapiens - an idea
that implies the two hominids might have been more than kissing cousins.
The theory has ignited one of the fiercest rows in years in anthropology, a
dispute fuelled by wrangles over access to the site and the remains