The fossilised remains of stone age people recovered from two caves in south west China may belong to a new species of human, a group of scientists have revealed.
The bones, which represent at least five individuals, have been dated to between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago and they are the most recent human remains found anywhere in the world that do not closely resemble modern humans.
A team of scientists told the PLos One Journal that the individuals differ from modern humans in their jutting jaws, large molar teeth, prominent brows, thick skulls, flat faces and broad noses. At the moment scientists are simply calling them ‘Red Deer Cave people’, after one of the sites where they were unearthed.
“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.
The remains of some of the individuals come from Maludong (or Red Deer Cave), near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province. While, a further skeleton was discovered at Longlin, in neighbouring Guangxi Province.
Dr Curnoe and colleagues put forward two possible scenarios in their PLoS One paper for the origin of the Red Deer Cave population.One states 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.
Either way the discovery of ‘the Red Deer People’ has caused great excitment in the science world and undoubtedly, it’s a story that scientists and the public alike, will be following closely in the coming months.