New species discovered: ‘Red Deer Cave people could be hybrids’

Human fossils hint at new species

Jonathan Amos By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News 

The remains of what may be a previously unknown human species have been identified in southern China. The bones, which represent at least five individuals, have been dated to between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago.

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Scientists say the specimens display features that are quite distinct from fully modern humans

But scientists are calling them simply the Red Deer Cave people, after one of the sites where they were unearthed. The team has told the PLoS One journal that far more detailed analysis of the fossils is required before they can be ascribed to a new human lineage. “We’re trying to be very careful at this stage about definitely classifying them,” said study co-leader Darren Curnoe from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

“One of the reasons for that is that in the science of human evolution or palaeoanthropology, we presently don’t have a generally agreed, biological definition for our own species (Homo sapiens), believe it or not. And so this is a highly contentious area,” he told BBC News.

Much of the material has been in Chinese collections for some time but has only recently been subjected to detailed analysis.

The remains of some of the individuals come from Maludong (or Red Deer Cave), near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province. A further skeleton was discovered at Longlin, in neighbouring Guangxi Province.

The skulls and teeth from the two locations are very similar to each other, suggesting they are from the same population.

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Scientists continue to excavate at Maludong

But their features are quite distinct from what you might call a fully modern human, says the team. Instead, the Red Deer Cave people have a mix of archaic and modern characteristics.

In general, the individuals had rounded brain cases with prominent brow ridges. Their skull bones were quite thick. Their faces were quite short and flat and tucked under the brain, and they had broad noses. Their jaws jutted forward but they lacked a modern-human-like chin. Computed Tomography (X-ray) scans of their brain cavities indicate they had modern-looking frontal lobes but quite archaic-looking anterior, or parietal, lobes. They also had large molar teeth. Dr Curnoe and colleagues put forward two possible scenarios in their PLoS One
paper for the origin of the Red Deer Cave population. One posits that they represent a very early migration of a primitive-looking Homo sapiens that lived separately from other forms in Asia before dying out.

speciesHow the Red Deer Cave people might have looked 11,500 years ago

Another possibility contends that they were indeed a distinct Homo species that evolved in Asia and lived alongside our own kind until remarkably recently. A third scenario being suggested by scientists not connected with the research is that the Red Deer Cave people could be hybrids.

“It’s possible these were modern humans who inter-mixed or bred with archaic humans that were around at the time,” explained Dr Isabelle De Groote, a palaeoanthropologist from London’s Natural History Museum. “The other option is that they evolved these more primitive features independently because of genetic drift or isolation, or in a response to an environmental pressure such as climate.”

Dr Curnoe agreed all this was “certainly possible”.

Attempts are being made to extract DNA from the remains. This could yield information about interbreeding, just as genetic studies have on the closely related human species – the Neanderthals and an enigmatic group of people from Siberia known as the Denisovans.

Whatever their true place in the Homo family tree, the Red Deer People are an important find simply because of the dearth of well dated, well described specimens from this part of the world. And their unearthing all adds to the fascinating and increasingly complex story of human migration and development.

“The Red Deer People were living at what was a really interesting time in China, during what we call the epipalaeolithic or the end of the Stone Age,” says Dr Curnoe. “Not far from Longlin, there are quite well known archaeological sites where some of the very earliest evidence for the epipalaeolithic in East Asia has been found.

speciesProject leaders Darren Curnoe and Ji Xueping discuss the Longlin skull

“These were occupied by very modern looking people who are already starting to make ceramics – pottery – to store food. And they’re already harvesting from the landscape wild rice. There was an economic transition going on from full-blown foraging and gathering towards agriculture.”

Quite how the Red Deer People fit into this picture is unclear. The research team is promising to report further investigations into some of the stone tools and cultural artefacts discovered at the dig sites.

The co-leader on the project is Professor Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

Source and author: bbc.scienc species

3 responses to “New species discovered: ‘Red Deer Cave people could be hybrids’

  1. Isn’t he handsome? He looks a bit like an early Van Buren with those sideburns.
    Seriously, sometimes I wonder if aliens did somehow accelerate the evolution of humans. I know lot of people might hate the idea, especially the Creationists, but how does one explain all the fossils that clearly look halfway between apes and man like homo habilis or homo erectus, and the giant leap to neanderthals and cro morgans in short time? Not to mention civilizations sudden appearance?

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  2. I agree Nano, i have long felt that we were at least guided (like children) on the path toward civilization and coexistence, unfortunately it seems that we are still children as we have forgotten our original message of coexistence instead pursuing greed and malice toward each other over issues of belief and colour. It will be interesting to see when our Creators/teachers come back to see our progress, hopefully were not put out for detention! haha

    Luke

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  3. Very familiar African structures.
    As African as you can get !
    “Don’t try to be very careful at this stage about definitely classifying them,”
    Good find in that area, but I don’t think its a new find. These Primate related group, have gone everywhere looking for food and Jobs ! They sill do it today !
    They need to check the link in Africa. Most if not all appear and look like this specimen.
    Regards

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