Denisovans scooped?

In late 2010 it emerged from genomic studies of a finger bone from Denisova Cave in eastern Siberia that a probably archaic human group had shared genes with ancestors of some modern humans who colonised West Pacific islands around 45 Ka ago, well before the last glacial maximum. Melanesians, including tpeople living in Papua-New Guinea have DNA that contains on average around 6% contributed from fertile interbreeding with Denisovans. This ancient groups are suggested by comparative studies of their and Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA to have split from them as lond as a million years ago. Now it seems possible that much more complete fossils of Denisovans may have been discovered in China (Curnoe, D. And 16 others 2012. Human Remains from the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition of Southwest China Suggest a Complex Evolutionary History for East Asians. PLoS ONE,

Skull from Red Deer Cave in Guanxi Province, southern China. Darren Curnoe

A block of sediment from Longlin Cave in Guanxi Province in southern China that was collected more than 30 years ago, has yielded skull fragments whose reconstruction reveals a most unusual individual, very different from anatomically modern humans, Neanderthals and from H. erectus. It had a wide flat face with highly prominent cheek bones, strong brow ridges and a diminutive chin.  Remains of three other individuals found by recent excavations in Maludong (Red Deer) Cave 300 km to the south of Longlin share similar characteristics. Yet there are similarities to moderns, for instance CT-scans show that the brain likely had a height and frontal lobes similar to ours, but different from Neanderthals.

These are not truly ancient fossils; radiocarbon and uranium-series dating give an age range from 14.3 to 11.5 ka, around the time of the Younger Dryas cold episode that preceded the Holocene. These two individuals lived when East Asia had long been home to fully modern humans.

The finds perhaps open a major new focus for human evolution, directed towards less-well studied older fossils from elsewhere in the East including those referred to by Jonathan Kingdon as ‘Mapas’ from both southern and northern China. Certainly it will boost palaeoanthropological research within China

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