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22 March 2012
New human species or isolated tribe?

A debate has begun over the discovery, in south west China, of the bones of what could possibly be a new human species. The fossilised skeletons and skulls have been nicknamed as the 'red deer cave people' after the remains of charred deer bones which were found alongside them. The skulls have been dated at between 12,500 and 7,500 BCE and carry some distinctive features.
     The main research has been carried out by Professor Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales, Australia, in conjunction with Professor Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Professor Curnoe is quoted as saying "Their skulls are an unusual mosaic of primitive features, like those seen in our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago, some modern traits, similar to living people, and several unique features. In short, they're anatomically unique amongst all members of the evolutionary tree".
     Another school of thought follows the argument that their 'uniqueness' was due to their isolation and subsequent lack of 'absorption' into the mainstream. Professor Curnoe goes on to say "While finely balanced, I think the evidence is slightly weighted towards the red deer cave people representing a new evolutionary line. They look very different to all modern humans, whether alive today or in Africa 150,000 years ago".
     It is hoped that analysis of the DNA of the skulls should resolve the question, one way or the other.

Edited from National Geographic (14 March 2012) The Independent (15 March 2012)

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