Skeletons found in Palau suggest ‘Hobbits’ were just dwarf humans

By Maggie Fox

March 11, MSNBC

WASHINGTON - Tiny skeletons found in the caves of the Pacific islands of Palau undercut the theory that similar remains discovered earlier in Indonesia might be a unique hominid species, researchers reported Monday.

The Palau skeletons, which date to between 900 and 2,800 years ago, appear to have belonged to so-called insular dwarfs — modern humans who grew smaller as a result of living on an island, the researchers said.

They said their findings, published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, show it is possible the same thing happened on the Indonesian island of Flores, where small skeletons dating back 15,000 to 18,000 years ago have intrigued scientists since they were discovered in 2004.

Some groups have proposed that the Flores hominids, who would have been about 3 feet (1 meter) tall as adults, represented a distinct species called Homo floresiensis.

Others argue they were small because of nutritional deficiencies, genetic defects or because they were similar to pygmies, dwarfs or other shorter types of Homo sapiens.

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photo: These partial skulls were recovered from Palau, with two different views of two specimens shown. Researchers say the remains are those of "insular dwarf" humans — and similar specimens found on the Indonesian island of Flores may have the same origins, rather than representing a completely different hominid species (PLoS ONE)