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Disproving ‘hobbits' lands prof in top 100

A KU professor's work arguing against the existence of a new species of human, or "hobbits" has been named one of the top 100 science stories of 2006 by Discover magazine.

David Frayer, professor of anthropology, co-authored a paper published in August that disputed the claims of a team of Australian and Indonesian scientists from 2004 that a new species of human had been discovered in Indonesia. Discover rated the story No. 66.

No. 1 on the list was efforts to develop alternative energy. Frayer's story rated just ahead of "Complex organic molecules formed in outer space" at 67, and joined stories about facial transplants in France, Tyrannosaurus Rex's "big brother," "walking fish" and a sunburst detected on Saturn at No. 100.

Frayer's work, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, stated that remains found in Flores, Indonesia, in 2004 represent a relative of pygmies on the island. Originally, scientists claimed the remains might be a new species of human, as the island was isolated and the individual was unusually short, with a small brain. They were from an individual who was about three feet tall with a skull roughly the size of a grapefruit. The remains were labeled LB1 and identified as Homo floresiensis. The supposed new species was informally referred to as "hobbits."

Frayer and colleagues asserted the individual likely suffered from a form of microcephaly, a brain disorder associated with a small brain or skull and sometimes a short stature.

The group also disputed the claim of a new species on points of geography and asymmetry in the face and cranium. In order for a new species to arise, the area where the remains were found would have to have been isolated, which Frayer and colleagues argued it was not. Frayer noted the remains showed asymmetrical features in its face and cranium. When animals show asymmetrical features, it is an indication of a growth abnormality or trauma, he noted.

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