A new study describes human fossils from southern China that have a blending of modern and archaic features. The fossils date from between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago, a time when it was thought that Neanderthals and all other human species had died out except ours (Homo sapiens). Scientists aren’t sure if the new fossils represent a previously undiscovered human species that lived alongside ours, a group of modern humans that migrated from Africa much earlier than other known migrations, or simply modern humans with unusual features.
The report, co-authored by evolutionary biologist Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales, appeared online in the journal PLoS One on March 14. The fossilized individuals have been dubbed the Red Deer Cave people after a cave in Yunnan province where several of the fossils were discovered.
According to an article by James Owen for National Geographic News: “The Red Deer Cave dwellers’ unusual features included a flat face, a broad nose, a jutting jaw that lacked a chin, large molar teeth, a rounded braincase with prominent brow ridges, and thick skull bones …”
Still, some scientists claim these features are within the known range of modern human features.
To settle the question of just who these people were, scientists are attempting to extract DNA from the fossils and compare it to modern humans.