Fossils were found in two caves in southwest China that revealed the existence of a hitherto unknown species of hominid. These Stone Age fossils presented an unusual blend of physical, archaic and modern traits, thus leaving humanity a new clue to the evolution of our species in Asia.
Dated between 14.5 and 11.5 thousand years, the fossils found are from hominids that still lived with modern humans (Homo sapiens) at a time when agriculture was in its infancy in China, revealed an international team of experts Involved in this study, published in PLoS One.
So far, no human fossils have been found in eastern Asia, especially human fossils less than 100,000 years old, which differed physically from Homo sapiens. This fact led the scientists to think that there were no other species of hominids in the region with the appearance of the first modern men. This new discovery is being questioned.
“These new fossils may be from a previously unknown species that survived by the end of the Ice Age 11,000 years ago,” explained Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales in Australia who led the study along with Ji Xueping, From the Institute of Chinese Yunnan Cultural Archeology and Relics.
According to Curnoe, the second option would be for the fossils to be representatives of a very advanced Africa migration unknown to modern men, but which did not, however, contribute genetically to the present man. The team of researchers is wary of classifying the fossils because of the number of unusual features they present.
The remains of three individuals were found in 1989 by Chinese archaeologists in Maludong (in Chinese translation, Red Deer Cave) near the town of Mengzi in Yunnan province but only began to be studied in the year 2008 by scientists Chinese and Australian.
A partial skeleton room also appeared in 1979 in a cave in Longlin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, but remained on the stone block where it was discovered until 2009, the year it was rebuilt.
The skulls and teeth of the skeletons found in Maludong and Longlin are very similar to each other.
Scientists have nicknamed these men “red deer people”, as they hunted these now extinct animals and cooked them in Maludong Cave.
“The discovery of the red deer people opens a new chapter in the history of human evolution – the Asian – and is a story that is only now beginning to be included”, said Curnoe.
Although Asia currently has more than half the world’s population, scientists still know little about how modern humans evolved there, after their ancestors settled in Eurasia some 70,000 years ago.
So far, studies of human origins have focused mainly on Europe and Africa, largely owing to the absence of fossils in Asia and the lack of knowledge of the antiquity of the few remains found there.