reports three sets of fossil remains were found at Maludong "Red Deer Cave" in the Yunnan province in 1989, but not until they were studied in 2008 was the significance of the finds appreciated. A fourth fossil set was found in 1979 in a cave in Longling close to the Guangxi Zhuang province, but was left encased in rock until 2009.
The hominid fossils are the youngest humanoids found in Asia so far. Fox News
reports the "Red Deer People" were dark skinned with a mixture of archaic and modern features. They were named the "Red Deer People" after the animals they are thought to have hunted for food. Experts believe they hunted the now extinct red deer and cooked them in their cave homes. Huffington Post
reports that though scientists agree they are distinct from modern humans, they are yet unsure exactly how to classify them.
reports that lead researcher Professor Darren Curnoe, associate professor in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales, said, in the study published in the journal PLoS One
: "We have discovered a new population of prehistoric humans whose skulls are an unusual mosaic of primitive, modern and unique features; like nothing we've seen before. They have rounded brain cases with prominent brow ridges, flat but short faces with a broad nose, jutting jaws that lack a human chin, their brains are moderate in size with modern-looking frontal lobes but primitive short parietal lobes, and they have large molar teeth."
The study said, further: "They clearly had a taste for venison, with evidence they hunted and cooked these large deer in the cave...First, their skulls are anatomically unique. They look very different to all modern humans, whether alive today or in Africa 150,000 years ago. And second, the very fact they persisted until almost 11,000 years ago when we know that very modern-looking people lived at the same time immediately to the east and south suggests they must have been isolated from them."
reports Curnoe said discovery of the "Red Deer People" has "startling implications for the early peopling of Asia." The "Red Deer People" shared the continent with modern Homo sapiens
at a time when Neolithic farming culture began. According to Curnoe, writing in the journal PLoS One
: "The discovery of the red-deer people opens the next chapter in the human evolutionary story - the Asian chapter - and it's a story that's just beginning to be told. Alternatively, they might represent a very early and previously unknown migration of modern humans out of Africa, a population who may not have contributed genetically to living people."
Before the discovery of the "Red Deer People," all known fossils of humanoid species found in east Asia were older than 100,000 years. It seemed that Homo sapiens
had the region exclusively to themselves and that they had no evolutionary ancestors in the region, but arrived through migration from other regions.
According to Professor Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology: "Because of the geographical diversity caused by the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, south-west China is well known as a biodiversity hotspot and for its great cultural diversity.That diversity extends well back in time."
Other earlier finds in the region remain controversial. Huffington Post
reports the discovery of miniature humanoids named "The Hobbits" (Homo floresiensis
), on the Indonesian island of Flores. They are 3ft 6 inches tall and appear to date back to 12,000 years. But other experts dispute they are a new species, saying they are only malformed modern humans.
Yet another find that complicated the emerging picture of human evolution in Stone Age east Asia, is the discovery of another humanoid species called the Denisovans
) that were once widespread across Eurasia and seemed to have interbred with Homo sapiens
about 50,000 years ago.
reports Curnoe, commenting on the diversity of hominid species in east Asia in the Stone Age, said: "What the discovery shows is just how complicated, how interesting, human evolutionary history was in Asia right at the end of the Ice Age. We had multiple populations living the area, probably representing different evolutionary lines: the Red Deer Cave people on the East Asian continent, Homo floresiensis (aka the 'Hobbit' human) on the island of Flores in western Indonesia, and modern humans widely dispersed from northeast Asia to Australia...This paints an amazing picture of diversity, one we had no clue about until the last decade. It's probably the tip of the iceberg of diversity, the opening of a new chapter in recent human evolution: the East Asian chapter."