The bitter scientific squabble over the true identity of the fossil hobbit has taken another acrimonious turn. An analysis by Australian researchers suggests the diminutive creatures were not members of a new species at all, but suffered from a congenital thyroid deficiency that stunted their growth.
They are not the first scientists to propose that the so-called hobbit, which was found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, was a sick human. But they are the first to suggest an environmental contribution to the disease. They believe the hobbit's diet was low in iodine and selenium. "Dwarf cretinism is the result of severe iodine deficiency in pregnancy in combination with a number of other environmental factors," said Dr Peter Obendorf of RMIT University in Melbourne. "Our research suggest these fossils are not a new species but rather the remains of human hunter-gatherers that suffered from this condition."