New human species may rewrite history

New Scientist reports: We may have lived alongside an archaic human species just 10,500 years ago in China. Controversial bone discoveries suggest we even interbred with and cannibalised these mystery hominins.

Some think the findings could overturn our understanding of what it means to be human. “If true, this would be rather spectacular and it would make the finds of truly global importance,” says Michael Petraglia at the University of Oxford, who wasn’t involved in the discoveries.

One of the most exciting finds is a hominin femur found in Muladong cave in south-west China, alongside other human and animal bones. It shows evidence of having been burned in a fire that was used for cooking other meat, and has marks consistent with it being butchered. It has also been broken in a way that is used to access bone marrow. Unusually, it has been painted with a red clay called ochre, associated with burial rituals (PLoS One, doi.org/97c).

Things got more interesting when the team tried to identify the bone. “Our work shows clearly that the femur resembles archaic humans,” says Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, who led the team behind the discoveries. Yet the sediment the bone was found in dates to just 14,000 years ago. This would make it the most recent human species to go extinct. [Continue reading…]

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