14,000 Bones From Red Deer Cave People Are A Mystery

Posted: Dec 19 2015, 1:49pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 19 2015, 7:06pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

14,000 Bones from Red Deer Cave People are a Mystery

A very old human predecessor might have survived the Ice Age. At least fossil evidence points in this direction.

It’s been years since scientists have studied a thigh bone unearthed in a cave in China. Now the experts are claiming that it belongs to an extinct hominid species that lasted longer than usual, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE.

Red Deer Cave

Credit: Peter Schouten

The thigh bone is 14,000 years old and it was discovered in 1989. There are many more fossils that were found alongside the bone and they were not studied until three years ago. The 14,000 year old bone, found among the remains of China's enigmatic Red Deer Cave people, has been shown to have features that resemble those of some of the most ancient members of the human genus, (Homo), despite its young age.

14,000 year old bones

Credit: Darren Curnoe & Ji Xueping

It is an incomplete femur. And the hominid died early and thus had a short life span. The thigh bone resembles that of Homo habilis and Homo erectus.

These forms of early man lived 1.5 million years ago. The youthful age is suggestive of the fact that primitive man could have survived late into our evolutionary history as a species.

However, we need to take things with a grain of salt since it is just one thigh bone. Until now the researchers have labeled early humans in Europe and Asia as Neanderthals and Denisovans. These went extinct some 40,000 years ago.

"Its young age suggests the possibility that primitive-looking humans could have survived until very late in our evolution, but we need to careful as it is just one bone," said co-author professor Ji Xueping from the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in China.

While Neanderthals and Denisovans disappeared long before the first true humans arrived on the scene, another species could have made it longer than usual.

In fact, this hominid may well have lived on into the Ice Age. It probably overlapped in its time span on earth with human beings in East Asia. More evidence is required before a clear picture emerges.

The thigh bone that was discovered is very small. The individual it belonged to may have weighed 110 pounds. This is tiny even for Ice Age hominids.

Which prompts the question…is it a mysterious species? Among the features are a protruding jaw, broad nose and thick brows. The debate rages on whether this was a new species.

It is a pre-modern species. That much is for sure. Nevertheless, there needs to be more research into the matter before we go jumping to conclusions. There is more here than meets the eye.

Especially, in China more human beings of the earliest kind lived than was thought of previously. The singular environment of Southwest China provided a haven for human diversity. And many of the pre-modern human beings survived well into the Ice Age.

This might seem more of an anachronism but it is true. The contents of the cave have thus given a new lease to the theory that more examples of early man exist than we could imagine.

Associate Professor Curnoe said: "This is exciting because it shows the bones from Maludong, after 25 years of neglect, still have an incredible story to tell. There may have been a diversity of different kinds of human living until very recently in southwest China. "The riddle of the Red Deer Cave people gets even more challenging now: Just who were these mysterious Stone Age people? Why did they survive so late? And why only in tropical southwest China?"

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