Red Deer Cave People: another set of new, old humans

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I’ve been slow in getting this news out which has been floating about a week already. An article in PLoS One discusses a set of human remains from China, dating to about 11,000 years old, containing a mix of modern and archaic hominid traits and may suggest a late-surviving set of archaic hominids, or part of an earlier human migration out of Africa that has been undetected until now.

Human Remains from the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition of Southwest China Suggest a Complex Evolutionary History for East Asians
Darren Curnoe1, Ji Xueping, Andy I. R. Herries, Bai Kanning, Paul S. C. Taçon, Bao Zhende, David Fink, Zhu Yunsheng, John Hellstrom, Luo Yun, Gerasimos Cassis, Su Bing, Stephen Wroe, Hong Shi, William C. H. Parr, Huang Shengmin, Natalie Rogers
PLoS ONE 7(3): e31918. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031918

Human fossils hint at new species
BBC, 14 March 2012

‘Red Deer Cave people’ may be new species of human
The Guardian, 14 March 2012

Mysterious ‘Red-deer Cave people’ fossils found in China
EarthSky, 20 March 2012

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Small skull, huge controversy


c. 23 April 2007 (Research|Penn State) Research|Penn State, an online magazine by the Pennsylvana State University has an interesting feature-length article on Dr Bob Eckhart, who leads the charge in debunking the Hobbit myth. While SEAArch has covered plenty in the news about homo floresiensis, this article presents an in-depth look at the arguments against the Hobbit theory and is worth a read for anyone following the story.

Small skull, huge controversy

In October 2004, while working in his lab, Bob Eckhardt heard a report on National Public Radio: A team of archaeologists had unearthed bones of a three-foot-tall humanlike creature on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Based on the shape and size of the skull and other skeletal remains, the archaeologists, led by Michael J. Morwood of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, claimed they had discovered a new species of human.

The diminutive biped had a cranium no larger than a chimpanzee’s, yet its bones had been found along with abundant stone tools. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal in the same stratum, along with luminescence dating of surrounding sediments, implied that the skeleton was only 18,000 years old. Considering other earlier archaeological finds on Flores, Morwood and his colleagues concluded that a new human species had evolved from a preceding population of Homo erectus that had been isolated for over 840,000 years on Flores, in the archipelago between Asia and Australia.

Eckhardt, a professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology in Penn State’s department of kinesiology, added it up. Three feet tall. A tiny brain. Complex stone tools. Evolved in complete isolation in 40,000 generations. He says: “It just didn’t ring true.”

Eckhardt read the scientific papers, published in the British journal Nature, setting forth the findings and conclusions of Morwood’s group. “A lot of things didn’t make sense,” he says. “For instance, the overall height seemed to be off. I took the long-bone measurements from the paper and plugged them into standard regression formulas.” Where Morwood and colleagues estimated an overall height of 1.06 meters for their specimen, Eckhardt came up with figures ranging from 1.15 to 1.33 meters, with an average of 1.25 meters—more than seven inches taller than Morwood’s estimate. Eckhardt also wondered about the proximity of the small cranium to sophisticated stone tools, including points, perforators, blades, and microblades. Over a century of research by anthropologists has established a rough correlation between an increasing brain size and advances in stone-tool technology. The kinds of tools described in the Nature article matched those made elsewhere by Homo sapiens. Says Eckhardt, “It seemed very unlikely that a human with a chimp-sized brain would have invented such tools independently and in total isolation.”

Related Books:
Little People And a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by L. Goldenberg