August 20, 2006 12:00
FOSSILISED remains which Australian researchers hailed as a previously unknown species of miniature human probably belonged to a disabled caveman, a new study has concluded.
The discovery by Australian and Indonesian archaeologists of a skull and bones on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004 was thought to be a major development in tracing human evolution.
Nicknamed the hobbit, the 1m skeleton was by far the smallest ever found, with a brain the size of a grapefruit. However, a new study contends the remains probably belonged to an early human suffering from microcephaly, a condition that causes an abnormally small head and other deformities, LondonĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Sunday Times reports.
The paper quotes a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of AmericaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s most respected scientific institutions, as suggesting the initial evaluation of the remains was flawed.
Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“The skeletal remains do not represent a new species, but some of the ancestors of modern human pygmies who live on the island today,Ă˘â‚¬Âť the report said. Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“The individual exhibits a combination of characteristics that are not primitive but instead regional and not unique but found in other modern human populations.Ă˘â‚¬Âť The original team was co-directed by Michael Morwood from AustraliaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s University of New England at Armidale in NSW and Professor Radien Soejono of the Indonesian Research Centre for Archaeology.
Robert Eckhardt, professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology at Pennsylvania State University, who was part of the new team, criticised the original study for comparing the skeleton with those of homo sapiens primarily from Europe. He said a more accurate understanding of the Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“hobbitĂ˘â‚¬Âť emerged when compared against humans from the same region.
Several researchers have already expressed doubts over the original findings, which were published in leading British science journal, Nature, in October 2004. In March last year Adelaide University professor of anatomical sciences Maciej Henneberg said he believed the hominid was suffering from some variation of microcephaly.