An archaic human thigh bone found in a Chinese cave could forever change the way we see human history.
Discovered among the remains of China’s enigmatic ‘Red Deer Cave people,’ the archaic bone belongs to a species of humans long thought to be extinct — much before the end of the last Ice Age — but scientists now claim the mysterious species could have existed at the same time as Neanderthals, a species of humans much closer in its features to the modern human. In other words, the 14,000-year old human bone has been shown to have features that resemble those of some of the most ancient members of the human genus, Homo.
According to Eurekalert, the discovery was published Thursday by a joint team led by Associate Professor Darren Curnoe from UNSW Australia and Professor Ji Xueping from the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Remarkably, the findings resulted after the team of scientists conducted a detailed study of the partial femur, which had lain unstudied for more than 30 years in a museum since its discovery in 1989, when archaeologists had unearthed several other fossilized remains from Maludong Cave (‘Red Deer Cave’) in Southwestern China.
If the findings of the newly found bone is accurate, then it could dramatically alter the way we look back at the evolution of the human species. Till now, scientists have thought that the last time more than one human species walked the face of the earth was tens of thousands of years ago, but the discovery of the archaic human bone could mean that this species of humans co-existed along with Neanderthals, Denisovans, H. erectus, and H. habilis, according to CSR.
One of the scientists involved in the findings, Dr. Darren Curnoe, confirmed that the discovery of the archaic human has even taken the science community by surprise.
“Until now, it was thought that archaic humans on mainland Asia had survived no later than around 100,000 years ago. So, to find a human bone that resembles very ancient humans that is only around 14,000 years old is a real surprise.”
Although Curnoe did say that there needs to be more studies done — and possibly more excavation needs to be carried out — before the present study can be completely accepted within the mainstream scientific community.
“Now, it is only one bone, so we need to be a bit careful,” he said. “There must also have been overlap in time between archaic and modern humans for tens of thousands of years in Southwest China.”
Interestingly, when the team had first announced the discovery of the remains of the Red Deer Cave people from Maludong in 2012, it had divided the scientific community. At the time, there were revealing studies made about the archaic human skulls found in the cave, but a hasty — speculative at best — conclusion had been drawn that the bones belonged to very early and primitive-looking population of modern humans, which had migrated to the region more than a hundred thousand years ago.
But now the discovery of the archaic human bone can alter the way we understand evolution. “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,” said Professor Ji of Xueping.
Although it will take time for us to know whether the new discovery will bring the scientific community on the same page, but one thing is certain: the discovery of the archaic human bones is unlike anything we have seen for a long, long time.
[Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]