Unusual traits may point to a new branch on the human family tree.
Recent findings are casting further doubt on the idea that Homo sapiens has been the sole human species on Earth since the Neanderthals died out. Australian and Chinese scientists have unearthed the remains of a previously unknown prehistoric people who dwelled in caves in southwest China as recently as 11,500 years ago.
The bones and skulls of the four individuals do not resemble anything seen before, but feature an odd range of modern, primitive and unique traits, such as large eyebrow ridges, broad cheekbones and a thick skull, some of which are also observed in modern humans who lived hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Their brains were small, but the frontal lobe, which plays a role in personality and behavior, was similar to a modern human’s, while the back part of the brain, which deals with sensory impressions, was more primitive.
Scientists have yet to classify the specimens, but have dubbed them the Red Deer People for the many red deer bones found in and around the caves. Lead scientist Darren Curnoe thinks that they may represent a new branch on our family tree, but it’s also possible that they’re simply a rare variation of our own species. Sophisticated DNA analysis may reveal the truth.
Meet the relatives
In recent years, discoveries of the Denisovans and Homo floresiensis (sometimes called hob-bits) have revealed that we haven’t been the world’s lone humans for as long as we thought.
Homo sapiens, which have been living on Earth for 200,000 years, may have mixed with these species.