Red Deer Cave people
|Red Deer Cave People
Temporal range: Late Pleistocene,
|Longlin 1, a partial skull|
|Scientific classification (disputed)|
The Red Deer Cave People were the most recent known prehistoric population that do not resemble modern humans. Fossils between 14,500 and 11,500 years old were found in Red Deer Cave and Longlin Cave in China. Having a mix of archaic and modern features, they are (tentatively) thought to be a separate species of humans that persisted until recent times and became extinct without contributing to the gene pool of modern humans. Evidence shows large deer were cooked in the Red Deer Cave, giving the people their name.
In 1979, the partial skull of a cave dweller was found in Longlin Cave in the Guangxi region of China. Additional human remains were excavated from Maludong (Red Deer Cave) in Yunnan Province. Fossils of the Red Deer Cave dwellers were radiocarbon dated between 14,500 and 11,500 years of age, using charcoal found in the fossil deposits. It is thought that during this period all other prehistoric human species, including Neanderthals, had died out. The Red Deer Cave humans could therefore be more recent than Homo floresiensis (dubbed "Hobbits") dated to 13,000 years ago.
In spite of their relatively recent age, the fossils exhibit features of more primitive humans. The Red Deer Cave dwellers had distinctive features that differ from modern humans, including: flat face, broad nose, jutting jaw with no chin, large molars, prominent brows, thick skull bones, and moderate-size brain.
Status as a separate species
Although the physical features of the Red Deer Cave people suggest that they may be a previously undiscovered species of prehistoric human, the scientists who discovered them are reluctant to classify them as a new species. Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London has suggested that they could be a result of mating between Denisovans and modern humans. Other scientists remain skeptical, suggesting that the unique features are within the variations expected for Homo sapiens populations.
Attempts to extract DNA have been so far unsuccessful, but are continuing. When this is done it will be possible to determine the relationship between this group and other modern humans.
- Deborah Smith (2012-03-15). "Scientists stumped by prehistoric human whose face doesn't fit". Brisbane Times.
- Barras, Colin (2012-03-14). "Chinese human fossils unlike any known species". New Scientist. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
- Curnoe, D.; Xueping, J.; Herries, A. I. R.; Kanning, B.; Taçon, P. S. C.; Zhende, B.; Fink, D.; Yunsheng, Z.; Hellstrom, J.; Yun, L.; Cassis, G.; Bing, S.; Wroe, S.; Shi, H.; Parr, W. C.; Shengmin, H.; Rogers, N. (2012). Caramelli, David, ed. "Human remains from the Pleistocene-Holocene transition of southwest China Suggest a complex evolutionary history for East Asians". PLoS ONE 7 (3): e31918. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031918. PMC 3303470. PMID 22431968.
- James Owen (2012-03-14). "Cave Fossil Find: New Human Species or "Nothing Extraordinary"?". National Geographic News.
- Defining ‘human’ – new fossils provide more questions than answers (article by Darren Curnoe in The Conversation, March 15, 2012)
- Enigma Man: A Stone Age Mystery (Aired by ABC TV on Tuesday 24 June 2014, 8:30pm)