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07 Nov 2004 08:32
Trumpeted as a new species of human being, the “hobbit” folk of Indonesia are really just sick members of Homo sapiens, it has been alleged.
The claim- - by Teuku Jacob, professor of paleoanthropology at Indonesia’s Gadjah Mada university—threatens to trigger an academic row over the discovery of an extinct race of little hominid people, Homo floresiensis, on the island of Flores.
Jacob said the tiny floresiensis skull is really that of a relatively recently deceased human who suffered from microcephaly, a congenital condition in which a person is born with a very small brain.
He also accused the Australian team, which was led by Professor Peter Brown of the University of New England, of “scientific terrorism” and of failing to consult him over the timing of their announcement.
But these claims were rejected by British paleontologist Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum in London. “The paper by Brown and his team was refereed by two independent teams made up of world experts before it was published in Nature.
It is very hard to believe they could have got it as wrong as is being claimed.”
Brown and his team said they had discovered fragments of seven individuals—including the skull of a female—in a limestone cave at Liang Bua on Flores in eastern Indonesia and named them Homo floresiensis.
But Jacob claims the remains really belong to modern humans suffering from microcephaly which shrank their brains to the size of a chimpanzee’s.
But Stringer said that, while sufferers of microcephaly have small brain cases, their jaws, chins and pelvis bones are of normal dimensions.
“Everything that was found of Homo floriensis was diminutive, so I don’t see how you can substantiate the claim that these were modern little people with one particular condition. Also, the chin is that of a very primitive hominid, not a modern human. I firmly believe Brown has made a superb discovery on Flores.” - Guardian Unlimited Â
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