In the first place, they write, the original figures for cranial volume and stature are underestimates, "markedly lower than any later attempts to confirm them." Eckhardt, Henneberg, and other researchers have consistently found a cranial volume of about 430 milliliters (26.2 cubic inches).
"The difference is significant, and the revised figure falls in the range predicted for a modern human with Down syndrome from the same geographic region," Eckhardt said.
The original estimate of 3.5 feet for the creature's height was based on extrapolation combining the short thigh bone with a formula derived from an African pygmy population. But humans with Down syndrome also have diagnostically short thigh bones, Eckhardt said.
Though these and other features are unusual, he acknowledged, "unusual does not equal unique. The originally reported traits are not so rare as to have required the invention of a new hominin species."
Instead, the researchers build the case for an alternative diagnosis: that of Down syndrome, one of the most commonly occurring developmental disorders in modern humans.
"When we first saw these bones, several of us immediately spotted a developmental disturbance," said Eckhardt, "but we did not assign a specific diagnosis because the bones were so fragmentary. Over the years, several lines of evidence have converged on Down syndrome."
The first indicator is craniofacial asymmetry, a left-right mismatch of the skull that is characteristic of this and other disorders. Eckhardt and colleagues noted this asymmetry in LB1 as early as 2006, but it had not been reported by the excavating team and was later dismissed as a result of the skull's being long buried, he said.
A previously unpublished measurement of LB1's occipital-frontal circumference -- the circumference of the skull taken roughly above the tops of the ears -- allowed the researchers
|Contact: Dave Pacchioli|