‘Hobbit’ may have been human with Down syndrome

Homo floresiensis skull and reconstructions

The skull (left) of LB1 is often cited as evidence for the "hobbit" species Homo floresiensis. Comparing the actual skull to composites made with her right (middle) and left (right) sides mirrored at the midline, however, shows facial asymmetry, suggesting LB1 was a Homo sapiens with developmental abnormalities.

A, E. Indriati, B&C, D.W. Frayer

A reanalysis of a skull and bones that scientists had used to argue for the existence of a diminutive “hobbit” species called Homo floresiensis suggests that the woman was probably an average but abnormal Homo sapiens with features of Down syndrome.

The idea that this roughly 18,000-year-old specimen does not represent a new species, but rather a previously known one with a developmental disorder, is not new. A close look at her brain case, uneveness of facial features, thigh bone and flat feet, however, all show she has characteristics consistent with individuals diagnosed with developmental disorders, and Down syndrome specifically, researchers report August 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For more on the muddled history of human evolution, read SN‘s feature “Tangled Roots.”

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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