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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?

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