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The controversy over the Flores ‘hobbit’ discovery continues, with publication of a new paper (full text pdf download) arguing that the alleged new species was actually a colony of outcast, dwarf cretins:

The scientists who originally discovered the remains hailed them as representing a heretofore unknown species, Homo floresiensis, that lived at the same time as modern humans 18,000 years ago. Since then researchers have squared off against each other, poring over skeletal traits, regional histories, and the medical literature to argue for or against the unique-species designation.

Peter Obendorf of RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, decided to enter the fray after noticing the hobbits looked similar to people with a disorder of the thyroid gland called cretinism. Cretinism can cause dwarfing and mental retardation, and is related to nutritional deficiencies, primarily a lack of iodine.

“Very quickly I found there were some quite surprising similarities between the dwarf cretins and these little people of Flores,” Obendorf said.

The new hypothesis is the latest attempt to explain away the ‘new species’ via a medical condition. Despite initial skepticism towards the Flores discovery, it may be finally making some ground though, with a number of researchers attacking the new paper as being weak in evidence. More at the Sydney Morning Herald, including quotes from the University of New England scientists who discovered the hobbits.