Group finds new ancestor
Researchers at the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Kunming, China this month recovered the remains of what could be another species of prehistoric human.
Lead researchers Ji Xueping and Darren Curnoe found the remains in a collection of relics which other researchers had previously discovered in 1979 and 1989, but Xueping and Curnoe did not study until 2009.
The collection consists of partial skulls and bone fragments from at least four different individuals, each estimated to be between 11,500 and 14,300 years old. The remains were originally found in two caves of southwest China - Longlin and Maludong.
Researchers decided to call these individuals the Red Deer Cave people, honoring the translated name of the "Maludong" cave in which they were found. Xueping and Curnoe said the skeletons have a mixture of primitive and modern features and indicate the individuals' diets were highly dependent on venison.
The remains also appear to lack the modern chins of Homo sapiens. The people had jutting jaws with large molar teeth, prominent brow ridges with short, flat faces, and broad noses, tucked beneath rounded brain cases and thick skull bones.
Researchers need more DNA evidence before they can accurately place the species in the Homo family tree, but the findings are fundamental to expanding the diversity of human evolution. The research suggests these Red Deer Cave people are related to the "hobbit" humans, Homo floresiensis, originating from western Indonesia and the Denisovans and Neanderthals which lived in Asia at the end of the Stone Age.
-compiled by Blythe Fiscella