'Hobbit' heads aren't human says bone boffin

Phrenological footling fuzzes theories on little people from Indonesian island

The skull of one “Hobbit” found on the Indonesian island of Flores was in no way human, according to new analysis of the creatures' skulls.

The skeletal remains of the nine very-human-looking creatures found on Flores in 2003 have sparked two distinct origin theories.

In one camp are those scientists who feel the small creatures are a branch of the genus Homo that diverged, and shrank, due to isolation. “Island-dwarfing” is a known evolutionary phenomenon that sees species isolated on islands shrink. Dwarf elephants have occurred on several islands, for example.

In the years since arguments have raged back and forth, with some analyses suggesting the creatures were an entirely different species to all those reading this article (Google robots excepted). Others have argued that the “Hobbits” were humans suffering from microencephaly, the head-and-brain-shrinking condition that's made news in recent weeks as a suspected symptom of the Zika virus.

Into that debate lands a new theory, advanced by French researchers Antoine Balzeau and Philippe Charlier, of France's Natural History Museum and Paris-Descartes University respectively. Soon to appear in the Journal of Human Evolution, the new theory rests on analysis of the skull of LB1 – a Hobbit nicknamed Liang Bua. LB1's skull is the most intact of the nine “Hobbit” candidates.

As reported by Agence France Presse, the new analysis shows that the skull shares none of the unique characteristics of skulls of genus Homo.

The authors aren't, however, ruling out membership of our species, saying that even with this new analysis it's impossible to make a conclusive call. ®

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