Scientists thought a new species of human, the hobbit-sized Homo floresiensis, had been unearthed when they found a small skull and short skeleton in a cave on an island in Indonesia.
But their assumptions were based on a single specimen and Australian-led international research has re-examined the remains and suggests the unusual features could be an early case of down syndrome and not signs of a unique species of human.
The facial asymmetry of the hobbit is suggestive of developmental abnormality, and a related study finds that the cranial dimensions of the single skull, along with other bone measurements from the same individual, are consistent with an individual with Down syndrome.
And other bones from the same population do not display Down-like characteristics.
The population which became known as Homo floresiensis has been described as “the most extreme human ever discovered”, showing a human 1.1 metres tall, with tiny brains, living tens of thousands of years ago.
The specimen found in 2003 in Liang Bua Cave is unusual, but craniofacial and postcranial characteristics originally said to be diagnostic of the new species are not evident in the other more fragmentary skeletons.
The hobbit find was controversial from the start with many questioning the discovery.
The new study by Maciej Henneberg, Professor of Anthropological and Comparative Anatomy from the University of Adelaide, and colleagues is published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
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