An Entirely New ‘Species’ of Human Discovered?

First we discovered the Neanderthals (in Germany 150 years ago), then the Denisovians (in Siberian caves in 2010). Now the ‘Red Deer People’, the remains of which were recently discovered in caves in China, dating back to 14,500 and 11,500 years ago.

OK… before my little geeks and nerdlings jump all over me for the misuse of the word ‘species’, let me admit right off the bat that it is a bit of a misnomer. [1] I’m simply using it for the sake of convenience.

Now, back to the Red Deer People!

(Red Deer People skull – a weird mix of ancient and modern traits)

According to an article at io9.com

“These and other remains recovered from China’s Red Deer Cave, or Maludong, are the first bones found in mainland East Asia that are less than 100,000 years old, and not clearly Homo sapiens. This had led some anthropologists to conclude that all non-human hominans had gone extinct by the time our ancestors reached this region.

This new find seriously reverses that view. Not only did the Red Deer People share East Asia with ancient humans, they did so for far longer than Neanderthals lasted in Europe. Based on the age of this skull, the Red Deer People survived until the very end of the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago before they finally went extinct — compared to 30,000 years ago for Neanderthals.”

(How a Red Deer man may have looked 11,000 years ago)

As archaeologist Darren Curnoe of Australia’s University of New South Wales explains, the Red Deer People were still around just as humans in China were making the move towards agriculture and a more complex civilization, a bit like if the Neanderthals had survived to see the dawn of Mesopotamian culture.

Scientists are trying to extract DNA from the remains to try to get a better picture of how the Red Deer People fit in genetically to the overall evolutionary family tree of modern man.

(Darren Curnoe and Ji Xueping of China’s Yunnan Institute)

Scientists are being cautious in declaring this find a definite new species. It’s possible that they were simply one of the very first Homo sapiens populations to reach East Asia, and that’s why they preserved so many strangely archaic features. In that scenario, however, they went extinct without contributing to the current gene pool, enduring for tens of thousands of years as a completely isolated population.

What is much more intriguing and exciting is the possibility that the Red Deer People evolved separately from Homo sapiens. That means they are descended from one of the hominan species that had already reached Asia, much like Neanderthals likely claim descent from Homo heidelbergensis.

Whatever their true place in the Homo family tree, the Red Deer People are an important find simply because of the dearth of well dated, well described specimens from this part of the world.

I, for one, welcome this long lost cousin back to our extended family.

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[1] The classical definition of species, which splits groups apart based on whether or not they can interbreed, doesn’t really fit with what we know of Neanderthals and Denisovans, both of whom contributed to the human genome and thus were perfectly capable of reproducing with humans. There’s no evidence to suggest the Red Deer People also interbred with other groups, but they likely belong in the same category as Neanderthals and Denisovans. Whether that grouping is species, subspecies, or something else is a grey area, and best left for another day.

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2 comments on “An Entirely New ‘Species’ of Human Discovered?

  1. Kate says:

    Is the new species of human being black people? You painted the sample black

    • vampyrefangs says:

      I seriously doubt The Deer People were black. They lived in what is now China and relatively recently at that (12,000 to 14,000 years ago). I am not sure why the artist decided to make the person so dark. Good point, though. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

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