August 28, 2008

Scientists Rebut Finding of ‘Hobbit’ Bones

A U.S. anthropologist is rebutting claims that fossilized bones found in the Micronesian islands were those of Hobbitlike little people.

University of Oregon Assistant Professor of anthropology Greg Nelson and colleagues from the Australian National University and North Carolina State University are refuting the conclusions of Professor Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and colleagues from Rutgers and Duke Universities. They concluded skeletal fragments found in caves on the island nation of Palau were the remains of small-bodied humans who might suffered from insular dwarfism on the islands 1,000 to 3,000 years ago.

"Our evidence indicates the earliest inhabitants of Palau were of normal stature, and it counters the evidence that Berger, et al, presented in their paper indicating there was a reduced stature population in early Palau," said Nelson.

"I think Berger's primary mistakes were his not understanding the variation in the skeletal population in which he was working, using fragmentary remains again in a situation where he didn't understand variation, and stepping outside his own area of expertise ..." Nelson said.

Nelson, NCSU anthropologist Scott Fitzpatrick and Australian co-author Geoffrey Clark present their research in the online journal PLoS One.