A 14,000 year-old femur first discovered in a Yunnan cave in 1989, is making waves in the realms of anthropology and human evolution. A study published online by peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE indicates a species of hominid new to science coexisted with humans possibly down through the last ice age.
Lead scientists Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales authored the report. Their findings were based on a bone originally found by limestone miners in Maludong cave (马鹿洞) near southern Yunnan's Mengzi (蒙自). The femur bears more resemblance to extinct Homo habilis and Homo erectus than it does to modern man, according to the study.
The bone, which is extremely short when compared to human examples living at the same time, led researchers to estimate its adult owner was rather small, weighing roughly 50 kilograms. The new species, which lived during the Pleistocene epoch, has collectively been dubbed 'Red Deer Cave' people.
Speaking with a reporter from Haaretz, Curnoe said his research points to a new species, but, because only based on a single bone, requires more samples from a similar time period:
While our results seem clear that the femur is likely to be from an archaic human, we need to be careful, as it is only one bone. Still, if we take this single fossil as representative of the species in question, then there must have been extensive overlap in time between modern and archaic humans.
The existence of the Red Deer Cave people brings the number of hominids living concurrently with ice-age humans to two. In 2003, the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. That species, now accompanied by the individual found in Yunnan, call into question the once-accepted idea that modern humans developed alone for nearly 50,000 years after the extinction of other hominids.
Ji and Curnoe first published work on the Red Deer Cave people in 2012, describing their analysis of a fossilized skull. They found the species was characterized by a smaller brain case than modern man, with a thick skull featuring a prominent brow ridge and protruding jaw which contained large molars. The findings were more than two decades in the offing, as the fossils sat unexamined in a Yunnan museum until Ji and Curnoe first studied them four years ago.
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