A fossilized human jawbone, which was found by a Taiwanese fisherman, may belong to a previously unknown species. Researchers estimate the bone is between 200,000 and 10,000 years old, and could represent a new species of hominid.
The prehistoric bone was originally discovered by an unnamed fisherman, who was dredge fishing in the Penghu Channel. As he was unaware of its significant value, the man sold the jawbone to a local antiques dealer.
The bone was eventually purchased by a collector named Kun-Yu Tsai. As reported by Financial Express, Tsai later donated the prehistoric human jawbone to the National Museum of Natural Science in Taiwan.
Geologist Chun-Hsiang Chang, who works for the museum, was immediately interested in the unusual piece. Although the bone and teeth are atypically large, Chang is certain it belonged to a human species.
The scientists have named the new species Penghu 1. Although very little is known about the prehistoric species, the location of the fossil and its characteristics have provided a few clues.
Chang said the jawbone likely belonged to an older adult. As the “teeth are worn severely,” the individual may have been elderly.
The researchers believe Penghi 1 lived on the mainland, and coexisted with a variety of mammals, including bears, elephants, and water buffaloes. Chang said the region was likely well-populated, as it provided an abundance of natural resources.
Although the bone clearly belongs to a human species, it is distinctly different from the bones of known species from the same era.
As reported by Discovery, the fossilized human jawbone is somewhat similar to others found throughout Asia and Europe. However, the teeth are unusually large.
Chris Stringer, with the Natural History Museum, said the “enigmatic fossil is difficult to classify” as it shares similarities with Denisovans, Homo heidelbergensis, as well as Homo erectus.
“… it highlights the growing and not unexpected evidence of human diversity in the Far East, with the apparent coexistence of different lineages.”
Yousuke Kaifu, who co-authored Chang’s study, said it is possible that the new species co-existed with Homo sapiens.
“The available evidence at least does not exclude the possibility that they survived until the appearance of Homo sapiens in the region, and it is tempting to speculate about their possible contact.”
Although it spent thousands of years on the bottom of the Penghu Channel, Chang said the fossilized human jawbone is well-preserved and being protected “with high security.”
[Image via Ancient Origins]