Human Fossils Hint at New Species

Jonathan Amos, BBC News, March 14, 2012

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.


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  • JohnEngelman

    Unfortunately the article did not mention the brain size of the 
    Red Deer Cave people. My guess is that they are descended from an earlier migration of primitive humans out of Africa that could not compete with the modern humans who evolved in Africa from 100,000 to 200,000 years ago, and migrated from Africa 50,000 to 70,000 years ago. 
    During this time human evolution was moving faster in Africa because there was a larger human population there. A large gene pool usually evolves faster than a small gene pool because there is more scope for beneficial mutations. 

    • The_Bobster

      Which is why today’s African population is so evolved?

      • JohnEngelman

        One hundred to several hundred modern humans left Africa fifty to seventy thousand years ago. A lot of human evolution has happened since. Whites began agriculture ten thousand years ago, and civilization five thousand years ago. Orientals began agriculture eight thousand years ago, and civilization four thousand years ago. Agriculture and urban living exerts different population pressures than hunting and gathering. 

  • The_Bobster

    Desmond Morris  (“The Naked Ape”) had the same theory.

  • Sonya610

    If anyone hasn’t seen Cave of Forgotten Dreams (playing now on Netflix) it is a very interesting documentary.  The artwork created 30,000 years ago by our White ancestors is astounding. One can also just google “Chauvet Cave images”.

    Really moving and thought provoking.

    • anonymous_amren

      It’s a native 3D movie, so watch it in 3D if you can. Help celebrate Sir Charles Wheatstone’s invention of 3D in 1833.

      But remember, 30,000 years ago “our” White ancestors might have also been “their” North East Asian ancestors. I don’t know the exact dates of the white/asian split. But our shared ancestors were no doubt still smarter and more capable than black people’s ancestors were back then. But not as smart as us now.

  • “They are underwater!!!” They had a mortgage crisis too???

  • East Asians are a blended humanity, the first victims of Diversity.

    Modern Caucasoid humans once ruled.   However, they had minions of backwards prole type apes to rule.  Eventually, they mostly mixed. 

    It will be the same story always.

  • Sonya610

    They must have practiced somewhere. Also they had developed various techniques (such as blowing color through a straw to get the airbrushed hand imprints) so that implies more art and experimentation somewhere. Their homes may have contained a lot of art.

  • MartelC

    they only support evolution to attack a rival religion, Christianity – otherwise, the marxist fundamentalists, even if most are too stupid to realize it. 

  • Frosty_The_White_Man

    “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.

    Liberal: There is only one race…the human race.
    Sane White Man: Define the so-called “human race” biologically. Oh wait, you can’t! “Humanity” is merely a social construct used to oppress proletarians of other species.

  • saxonsun

    Imagine how I laughed when it hit me that she looks just like a wookie!

    • Beloved Comrade

      Yeah, no kidding.

  • JohnEngelman

    The out of Africa theory is based on impressive DNA and fossil evidence. It does not mean that the descendants of those who migrated out of Africa fifty to seventy thousand years ago are inferior to the descendants of those who remained in Africa. It does mean that the ancestors of Caucasians fifty to seventy thousand years ago looked more like Negroes than Nordics. 

    • nBmnp

      The point is that one single Neanderthal-gene is enough to debunk the out-of-Africa theory:

      Happens that such genes were already found.

      • JohnEngelman

        The out of Africa theory holds that modern humans evolved in Africa 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. Fifty to seventy thousand years one hundred to several hundred of them left Africa. They were more intelligent than the Neanderthals they encountered, but on a few occasions they had children with them. 
        The modern humans who left Africa fifty to seventy thousand years ago certainly did have dark skin. Otherwise they would have gotten skin cancer. Caucasians and Orientals are descended from them. 
        That is the out of Africa theory. It is the scientific consensus. 

  • Leelywhite

    I must say that I have noticed that Blacks seem to be able to put their arms behind them much more comfortably when they are being handcuffed.

  • JohnEngelman

    A small population has fewer individuals who can have mutations. There is less room for a beneficial mutation to spread. 

  • JohnEngelman

    Secular liberals use evolution as a weapon against Protestant Fundamentalists. Then they ignore the evolutionary implications of “The Bell Curve.” Evolutionary theory clearly states that innate differences are more important than acquired differences. 
    Secular liberals want to believe that the right environment will turn the illegitimate children of unmarried welfare mothers into physicians and scientists. Because they cannot argue that rationally they try to suppress a debate over the issue.  

  • ViktorNN

    What became of the Red Deer Cave People?

    Simple, the ancient Chinese probably ate them. The Chinese eat anything and everything.

  • anonymous_amren

    How do we know these aren’t Denisovans? Or do the teeth look different? We don’t know what Denisovans look like.

    • Because the skull is way too modern – the Red Deer Cave people may have some archaic traits but they’re essentially modern sapiens. The Denisovan DNA suggests their race was closer to European Neanderthals, and East Asian fossils are known which would have been attributed to neanderthalensis if they were found in Europe.

  • anonymous_amren

    They can’t deny it forever. They’re slowly coming around. I used to be one of those so-called liberal people a couple of years ago.

    The Out of Africa theory, as I understood it, has been debunked. The Out of Africa theory was that non-human hominids evolved into humans in Africa and then spread across the world only after becoming human. But it has since been proven that we have some non-human ancestors that are only found outside Africa. We evolved mostly from African hominids and partly from European and Asian hominids.

  • anonymous_amren

    That’s because Darwin is irrelevant. Science is not like religion. Science would still say exactly the same thing about evolution if Darwin had never existed. Science doesn’t have holy prophets. It has facts that can be understood and verified by anyone.

    Christians should be battered with the science of evolution… and so should secular leftists.

    Darwin was mostly a leftist egalitarian anyway, despite his theories showing racial equality was impossible.

  • JohnEngelman

    Jericho was a walled village, rather than a city. Urban civilization began five thousand years ago in Egypt and what is now Iraq. 

    • Alanscott

       Please explain what you believe to be the difference between “a walled village” and a city, or how the majority rural civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia were “urban.”

  • It was probably a black race of people who could not compete and died out or its just one more Global Warming style Hoax.