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Hobbits’ or Down Syndrome? Scientists Revive Fossil Debate

Researchers have fired a fresh volley in the back-and-forth debate over the fossil skeleton of a scaled-down "Hobbit" human, found more than a decade ago on the Indonesian island of Flores. The prevailing view is that the 15,000-year-old fossil known as LB1 represents a species distinct from us Homo sapiens types, known as Homo floresiensis. However, some anthropologists have repeatedly challenged that view, saying the "Hobbit" was actually a Homo sapiens who was stunted due to a pathological condition. A study published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests the condition was Down syndrome. (A related study points more generally to "abnormal development.")

Other anthropologists, such as Dean Falk of Florida State University and the School for Advanced Research, have issued rebuttals to similar claims in the past. "When this one is refuted, and it will be, then they'll find something else," Falk told NBC News. "It's good to have people who can be skeptical, but this is turning into a circus."

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— Alan Boyle, NBC News