The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 11, 2013

'Hobbit' fossil a type of human, researcher says

(Continued)

But she and her collaborators studied specific regions of the skull, called landmarks, and found that the hobbit showed no close link to modern humans, and had no signs of the hypothesized disorders.

The scientists also compared the skull to other early humanlike ancestors and confirmed that Homo floresiensis was not at all like them.

Whether Baab’s extensive research, which spans years and involved CT scans and other high-tech diagnostics, can extinguish the fiery debate between warring scientific camps is yet to be seen.

Robert B. Eckhardt, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University who has conducted studies of his own on the same fossil, said Wednesday he has concluded the hobbits are merely modern humans — just short and a bit odd in appearance.

Eckhardt said he will vigorously contend, in a scientific paper to be published later this year, that only LB-1 — not all members of the hobbit clan — was stricken with a medical condition. He said his studies with a colleague, Maciej Henneberg in Australia, suggest that all others probably were normal humans, though dwarfish and big-footed.

“There’s nothing secretive about this,” he said of his yet-to-be-published work. “We’ve put forth the hypothesis, using the skull of LB-1, that we can identify a pathology that fits a diagnosis of Down syndrome.”

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