By: April Carson
A group of researchers from around the world has documented a unique ancient human fossil in China that distinguishes itself from any previously discovered hominin. This fossil does not bear resemblance to the evolutionary paths that led to Neanderthals, Denisovans, or modern humans. This finding implies that our existing understanding of the human ancestral tree might require the addition of another branch.
The remains of an unidentified hominin labeled as HLD 6, including jaw, skull, and leg bones, were uncovered in Hualongdong, East Asia, in 2019. Since then, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have encountered challenges in aligning these remains with any known human lineage.
The facial structure of this hominin bears similarities to that of the modern human lineage, which diverged from Homo erectus around 750,000 years ago. However, the absence of a chin in this individual's features resembles the characteristic of a Denisovan, an extinct ancient hominin species from Asia that split from the Neanderthals over 400,000 years ago.
Collaborating with scientists from Xi'an Jiaotong University in China, the University of York in the UK, and Spain's National Research Center on Human Evolution, the team at CAS believes they have revealed a completely novel lineage. This lineage appears to be a hybrid, combining characteristics from the branch leading to modern humans with traits from the lineage that produced other prehistoric hominins in the area, such as the Denisovans.
"This discovery provides strong evidence for hybridization in the region and paints a more complex picture of human evolution than previously thought," said Jing Yi, lead author on the team's paper. "It also helps to explain why modern East Asians have inherited Denisovan genetic material". This is an exciting step forward in understanding our ancient ancestors and how they coexisted with one another.
Throughout history, numerous Pleistocene hominin fossils discovered in China have posed challenges in categorization within a singular lineage. Consequently, these remains are frequently attributed as transitional variations along a direct trajectory toward modern human development. They might be labeled as archaic instances of Homo sapiens or as advanced forms of Homo erectus.
However, this straightforward and oversimplified explanation has sparked controversy and lacks broad acceptance. While Homo erectus did endure in Indonesia until approximately 100,000 years ago, the recently unearthed remains in East China bear stronger resemblances to other, more contemporary hominin lineages.
In the past, genetic analyses conducted on Neanderthal remains from Europe and western Asia have revealed indications of a fourth hominin lineage existing during the Middle to Late Pleistocene era.
Nevertheless, this specific group, while evidenced by genomic data, has yet to receive formal acknowledgment in the fossil record. With the discovery of the Chinese hominin remains, researchers are now able to make a direct link between these two lines of evidence.
The fossilized mandible and cranium pertain to an individual estimated to be around 12 or 13 years old. While the facial characteristics resemble those of modern humans, the limbs, cranial vault, and jaw exhibit what the analysis authors describe as more archaic attributes.
These findings add complexity to the trajectory leading to modern humans. The assortment of physical traits observed in this ancient hominin bolsters the idea of three concurrent lineages in Asia – the Homo erectus lineage, the Denisovan lineage, and this additional lineage that shares a "phylogenetically close" relationship with us.
This new fossil discovery suggests that these three lineages may have interbred and exchanged genes at various points in their evolutionary histories – providing intriguing evidence for the mixing of genetic material between the different human species. The authors stress, however, that more evidence is needed before any conclusions can be drawn about the mix of ancestral populations in Asia.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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