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'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.

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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."

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