A newly found Stone Age people featured darker skin, an unusual mix of primitive and modern features and had a strong taste for venison.Curnoe wrote about the finds in 2009:
Remains of possibly four individuals of the so-called "Red Deer Cave People" were unearthed in southwest China and may represent a new species of human.
The fossils from two caves, date to just 14,500 to 11,500 years ago. Until now, no hominid remains younger than 100,000 years old have been found in mainland East Asia resembling any other species than our own. "We have discovered a new population of prehistoric humans whose skulls are an unusual mosaic of primitive, modern and unique features -- like nothing we've seen before," said Darren Curnoe, associate professor in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales and lead author of a study about the find in the journal PLoS One.
While the material falls within the range for modern human variation, the individuals show some archaic features and are robust. Only a handful of potential stone tools have been recovered from the site; many are hammer stones.It would be quite peculiar if this were another species of human, although the evolutionary picture is getting muddy in Europe, so it stands to reason that it should be muddy in Asia, especially given that we have the Denisova evidence. In the PLoS article (http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031918) the authors remark that it is possible that they represent a late-surviving archaic group or that the Homo sapiens populations that were coming out of Africa were remarkably diverse morphologically and that these individuals represent a more primitive population of those migrants. There is reasonably good evidence that there were different groups that migrated to East Asia over the course of the last million or so years and this group may simply reflect one.
It is an odd mix of traits to be sure. The brain case is somewhat low (http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031918.g005), and yet the mandibles have chins, a late-arriving characteristic, only present in modern humans. Additionally, the face is flat(http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031918.g003) and there is no space behind the last molar, indicating modernity. Either way, it is fascinating find but the headlines are unnecessarily over-the-top. Read the whole article.
Aside: Curnoe is a splitter with the best of them and in the mould of Bernard Wood. He was responsible for a new species of Homo, in South Africa, Homo gautengensis, because he felt that the remains differed from other specimens of early Homo enough to give them their own species designation. This name has not had traction in the palaeoanthropological community.
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