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'Red Deer Cave People' Bone Sheds Light On Mysterious Species Of Pre-Modern Humans

First Posted: Dec 17, 2015 04:33 PM EST

A 14,000-year-old thigh bone that was found in China is shedding new light on an ancient species of humans that became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age. The prehistoric bone was found among the remains of China's mysterious "Red Deer Cave people" and after a number of studies, researchers found that the bone shared similar features to many ancient human genuses (Homo).

"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," Professor Ji Xueping, coauthor of the study, said in a news release.

The ancient thigh bone along was found with several other fossilized remains from Maludong ('Red Deer Cave') back in 1989. The researchers found that the thigh bone matched those from species like Homo habilis and early Homo erectus that existed over 1.5 million years ago. However, the researchers are being cautious about its identity.

"The new find hints at the possibility a pre-modern species may have overlapped in time with modern humans on mainland East Asia, but the case needs to be built up slowly with more bone discoveries," said Professor Darren Curnoe, coauthor of the study.  

The researchers reconstructed the body mass, which summed up to about 50 kilograms, which was quite small for by pre-modern and Ice Age human standards. At first, the researchers speculated that the bones probably belonged to an unknown species of an early primitive looking group of modern humans, which had migrated into the area over a hundred thousand years ago.

"We published our findings on the skull bones first because we thought they'd be the most revealing, but we were amazed by our studies of the thigh bone, which showed it to be much more primitive than the skulls seem to be," Ji said.

The researchers' study is paving the way for future studies on various groups of prehistoric humans and how they relate to modern humans.

The findings of this study were published in journal PLOS ONE.

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