Study says "Hobbit" human is a new species





The tiny skeletal remains of human "Hobbits" found on an Indonesian island belong to a completely new branch of our family tree, a study has found.

The finds caused a sensation when they were announced to the world in 2004. But some researchers argued the bones belonged to a modern human with a combination of small stature and a brain disorder called microcephaly.

That claim is rejected by the latest study, which compares the tiny people with modern microcephalics. Microcephaly is a rare pathological condition in humans characterised by a small brain and cognitive impairment.

In the new study, Dean Falk, of Florida State University, and her colleagues say the remains are those of a completely separate human species: Homo floresiensis. They have published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The remains at the centre of the Hobbit controversy were discovered at Liang Bua, a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, in 2003. Researchers found one near-complete skeleton, which they named LB1, along with the remains of at least eight other individuals.

The researchers believe the 1m-tall (3ft) people evolved from an unknown small-bodied, small-brained ancestor, which they think became small in stature to cope with the limited supply of food on the island.

The little humans are thought to have survived until about 12,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption devastated the region.

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