Washington, August 27 : A new research has determined that the so-called 'dwarfs' or 'hobbits' of Palau, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, were actually modern, normal-sized hunters and gatherers.
Misinterpreted fragments of leg bones, teeth and brow ridges found in Palau appear to be an archaeologist's undoing, according to researchers at three institutions.
Scientists from the University of Oregon, North Carolina State University and the Australian National University refute the conclusion of Lee R. Berger and colleagues that Hobbit-like little people once lived there.
According to University of Oregon anthropologist Greg C. Nelson, "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."
"Our research from whole bones and whole skeletons indicates that the earliest individuals in Palau were of normal stature but gracile. In other words, they were thin," he added.
Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, stunned archaeologists in March with his claim, based on skeletal fragments collected from two caves exposed to tidal activity, that small-bodied humans may have lived in isolation and suffered from insular dwarfism on the islands 1,000 to 3,000 years ago.
Berger initially found fragmented human remains while vacationing in Palau, and returned later for excavations under a grant from the National Geographic Society.
Nelson and NCSU anthropologist Scott M. Fitzpatrick, reviewed full skeletal remains and cultural evidence dating back to almost 3,500 years ago. Their Australian co-author Geoffrey Clark also studied multiple Palauan cultural sites dating to approximately 3,000 years ago.
They argue that Berger, an expert on much earlier humans dating to the Pleistocene, failed to review existing documentation, much of it published by Nelson or Fitzpatrick. uch of their rebuttal comes from remains unearthed by Fitzpatrick and Nelson at Chelechol ra Orrak, only miles from Berger's two sites.
Among these, whole remains are bone pieces that match - some are even smaller that fragments found by Berger - and come from much larger bodies than those claimed by Berger.
"I think Berger's primary mistakes were his not understanding the variation in the skeletal population in which he was working," Nelson said.
According to Nelson, archaeological data does not suggest a separate isolated group evolving differently (biologically or culturally), although there are subtle differences and changes that occur through time.