The Red Deer People - Human fossils hint at new species
2012-03-18 0:00

By Jonathan Amos | bbc.co.uk


Left: Scientists say the specimens display features that are quite distinct from fully modern humans. Right: How the Red Deer Cave people might have looked 11,500 years ago.


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.

"Were 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 dont 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 intense investigation.

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.


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.

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.

"Its 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 Londons 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.


Project leaders Darren Curnoe and Ji Xueping discuss the Longlin skull
"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 theyre 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: bbc.co.uk



Related Articles
Get Ready for a New Human Species
Studies say hobbit previously unknown species


Latest News from our Front Page

Better Identification of Viking Corpses Reveals: Half of the Warriors Were Female
2015-04-25 4:52
Shieldmaidens are not a myth! A recent archaeological discovery has shattered the stereotype of exclusively male Viking warriors sailing out to war while their long-suffering wives wait at home with baby Vikings. (We knew it! We always knew it.) Plus, some other findings are challenging that whole “rape and pillage” thing, too. Researchers at the University of Western Australia decided ...
Off Your Knees, Germany! Ernst Zundel 1983 - 2003
2015-04-25 1:15
For more information on the holocaust, how the war was forced upon Germany, and the REAL victims of the second world war see: http://gblt.webs.com/Real_Holocaust.htm http://web.archive.org/web/20130806074314/http://www.666blacksun.org/ http://www.zundelsite.org/
IRS Drops Attack For Six Years – No Evidence of Jurisdiction
2015-04-24 20:29
A big congrats to a friend I’ve been working with for several years, he stood up to the predators commonly called the “IRS” and they dropped their attack. Thanks also for providing me with the proof below. The criminals called the “IRS” initiated an attack claiming my friend was required to file six tax returns, or explain how he made ...
Into Eternity - Finland's 100,000 Year Massive Underground Spent Nuclear Fuel Program
2015-04-24 20:49
Into Eternity is a documentary about a deep geological repository for nuclear waste. The concept of long-term underground storage for radioactive waste has been explored since the 1950s. The inner part of the Russian doll-like storage canisters is to be composed of copper. Hence in the case of Onkalo it is tightly linked to experiments on copper corrosion in running ...
SPLC Accuses Oath Keepers of Inciting “Armed Confrontation” Over Sugar Pine Mine
2015-04-24 20:22
The Southern Poverty Law Center has accused Oath Keepers of inciting an armed confrontation with BLM authorities over the Sugar Pine Mine dispute in Oregon, despite the fact that the organization has explicitly stated that it is not promoting armed confrontation with the feds. In an article provocatively posted on the organization’s ‘Hatewatch’ section entitled Oath Keepers Descend Upon Oregon with ...
More News »