Just What Hominid Species Are the Two 100,000 year-old Lingjing Crania?

Writing in the journal Science, Trinkhaus and crew describe two Late Pleistocene-era 105,000 to 125,000 year-old calvaria from Lingjing, Xuchang, China sharing both human and Neanderthal  features which up to this time was unseen in the hominid fossil record. The brow ridges and skull mass resembled early modern humans of the Old World, the skulls had a flat brainpan like other eastern Eurasian humans of the time, but their ear canals and large back section of the skull resembled Neanderthals.

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Reconstructions of the skulls superimposed over the site where they were found. (Xiujie Wu)

In the paper, the large brains of these archaic humans ruled out Homo erectus and other known hominid species. The researchers were vague about what they thought the species might be, describing them only as archaic humans. Some, like Katerina Harvati, from University of Tübingen in Germany, are speculating that these skull caps represent Denisovans, a 100,000 to 50,000 year old hybrid human-Neanderthal species that currently exists only as sequenced DNA taken from finger bone and a tooth found in a Siberian cave.  A 2015 analysis of the specimen scraps indicated that the Denisovans lived for some 60,000 years side-by-side with Neanderthals and humans in Asia. Philipp Gunz, from Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, also said that these fossils are what he imagines Denisovans to look like. But, the paper did not mention Denisovans, because the fossils failed to yield genetic material.

Lead author,  Xiujie Wu, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences‘ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, said in a statement,

“Eastern Asian late archaic humans have been interpreted to resemble their Neanderthal contemporaries to some degree. Yet it is only with the discovery of two human crania, that the nature of these eastern Eurasian early Late Pleistocene archaic humans is becoming clear.”

But Wu told Science Magazine that the fossils could represent,

“a kind of unknown or new ar­chaic human that survived on in East Asia to 100,000 years ago.”

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Just What Hominid Species Are the Two 100,000 year-old Lingjing Crania?

  1. The northern Denisovan (known only from Denisova cave) split from southern Denisovan (known only from DNA left in living people) around the same time (125k years ago). If there was there some “population explosion” of Denisovan at that time, the center between those two populations is pretty close to China. It seems to me very probable they those skulls are very close to Denisovan.

  2. “the large brains of these archaic humans ruled out Homo erectus and other known hominid species”

    How does it work exactly? An specimen that hypothetically had something like 1400cc of non-pathological or deformed cranial volume but were otherwise plain Homo erectus is automatically “promoted” to something else?

    Perhaps if that’s a very strict definition of “erectus” that doesn’t lump rhodesiensis and heidelbergensis as “erectus” (even though not explicitly lumped, these were probably also “ruled out” along with “other hominids”, which would perhaps also include then “helmei” and “antecessor”).

    But at some point there’s a continuity, even if one assumes a very strict pattern of punctuated equilibrium where what is essentially a chronospeciation occurred quite restrictedly in geography and time.

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