|A 11,500 to 14,500 year old skull from the Red Deer Cave|
Genetic analysis showed that it came from another completely unknown species of human. While they have not yet been given a proper scientific name, the creatures are known as the Denisova hominids. These two discoveries caused a great stir in the palaeontological and anthropological world as they showed that there were still species of undiscovered humans which had once lived on the planet alongside our species and the Neanderthals.
|An artist's impression of the Red Deer Cave people|
All in all the creatures seemed like a throwback to the early humans such as Homo habilis, with their chunky and archaic features. '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. As a result the remains have simply been named the Red Deer Cave people. As we still do not have a current definition for our own species, it makes naming new humans difficult.
The team have put forward three different hypotheses to explain their origins. The first is that they were simply a form of archaic Homo sapiens which migrated out of Africa very early and lived separate from other human populations before dying out. The second scenario states that they are simply a subspecies of ours which evolved in Asia and lived alongside our own kind until very recently. Their final theory is that the Red Deer Cave people are a hybrid of archaic and modern humans.
'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' said Dr Curnoe. What makes them interesting is where they fit into the picture of Chinese anthropology. Between 11,000 and 14,000 years ago, modern humans in China were making pottery and developing the first forms of agriculture. Stone tools found alongside the Red Deer Cave remains may help to answer this.
The team are currently attempting to extract DNA from the fossils and perform genomic analysis to determine their position on the human family tree. This, apart from determining whether they are a new species or not, may show if they inter-bred with our species or even the Denisovans and how interaction with them may have shaped our species both culturally and genetically.