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Friday, March 23, 2012

Kambayashi iseki: What a Paleolithic campsite looked like

Earliest Paleolithic Polished Axes in Japan and Australia, 35,000 BC
Rare DNA Line only found in Japan and Australia!
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Did Japan’s palaeolithic era begin earlier than thought?

MATSUE, Shimane Pref. (Kyodo) A team of archaeologists and researchers said Tuesday that they have likely unearthed the oldest stone tools used in Japan — 20 artifacts dating back some 120,000 years — at the Sunabara remains in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture.here
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In the news: Upper Paleolithic humans “mined” stone from Mount Takaharayama to produce trapezoid and other stone tools 35,000 years ago

n the news: Upper Paleolithic humans “mined” stone from Mount Takaharayama to produce trapezoid and other stone tools 35,000 years agoFull Story
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Monday, March 19, 2012

Siberians share DNA with extinct human species

Siberians share DNA with extinct human species
Man's ancestors mated with Neanderthals and other related hominids during human evolution,
according to a new study.
6:00AM GMT 01 Nov 2011
Researchers have found that people in East Asia share genetic material with Denisovans,
who got the name from the cave in Siberia where they were first found.
The new study covers a larger part of the world than earlier research, and it is clear
that it is not as simple as previously thought.
Professor Mattias Jakobsson, of Uppsala University in Sweden who conducted the study
together with graduate student Pontus Skoglund, said hybridisation took place at several
points in evolution and the genetic traces of this can be found in several places in the
world.
He said: "We'll probably be uncovering more events like these.
"Previous studies have found two separate hybridisation events between so-called archaic
humans - different from modern humans in both genetics and morphology - and the ancestors
of modern humans after their emergence from Africa.
"There was hybridisation between Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans outside
of Africa and hybridisation between Denisovans and the ancestors of indigenous Oceanians.
"The genetic difference between Neanderthals and Denisovans is roughly as great as the
maximal level of variation among us modern humans."
The Uppsala scientists' study demonstrates that hybridisation also occurred on the East
Asian mainland.
The connection was discovered by using genotype data in order to obtain a larger data set.
Complete genomes of modern humans are only available from some dozen individuals today,
whereas genotype data is available from thousands of individuals.
These genetic data can be compared with genome sequences from Neanderthals and a Denisovan
which have been determined from archeological material.
Only a pinky finger and a tooth have been described from the latter.
Genotype data stems from genetic research where hundreds of thousands of genetic variants
from test panels are gathered on a chip.
However, this process leads to unusual variants not being included, which can lead to
biases if the material is treated as if it consisted of complete genomes.
Prof Jakobsson and Skoglund used advanced computer simulations to determine what this
source of error means for comparisons with archaic genes and have thereby been able to use
genetic data from more than 1,500 modern humans from all over the world.
Prof Jakobsson said: "We found that individuals from mainly Southeast Asia have a higher
proportion of Denisova-related genetic variants than people from other parts of the world,
such as Europe, America, West and Central Asia, and Africa.
"The findings show that gene flow from archaic human groups also occurred on the Asian
mainland."
Skoglund added: "While we can see that genetic material of archaic humans lives on to a
greater extent than what was previously thought, we still know very little about the
history of these groups and when their contacts with modern humans occurred."
Because they find Denisova-related gene variants in south east Asia and Oceania, but not
in Europe and America, the researchers suggest that hybridisation with Denisova man took
place about 20 thousand years ago, but could also have occurred earlier.
This is long after the branch that became modern humans split off from the branch that led
to Neanderthals and Denisovans some 300,000 to 500,000 years ago.
Prof Jakobsson said: "With more complete genomes from modern humans and more analyses of
fossil material, it will be possible to describe our prehistory with considerably greater
accuracy and richer detail."
The findings were published in the online edition of the journal PNAS.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8861602/Siberians-share-DNA-with-extinct-human-species.html
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lock of Aboriginal Man's Hair Unlocks Secrets of Human Migration

Using a genetic blueprint contained in a nearly century-old lock of hair from an Aboriginal Australian man, scientists have found evidence the Aborigines are descendants of an early wave of people who left Africa and branched off on their own as long ago as 75,000 years, before Asians and Europeans became distinct groups.

This means Aborigines are likely one of the oldest continuous populations outside Africa, they write.

In 1921, the hair was donated to British anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon when he was traveling through Golden Ridge near the town of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, according to Morten Rasmussen, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and one of the international team researchers.

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The researchers used this sample — which became the first genome sequenced from an Aboriginal Australian — to look far back into human history and clarify how our ancestors spread around the world from Africa, where they are believed to have emerged.

The lock of hair made good material for this kind of study because its owner was likely to have pure Aborigine heritage, not yet mixed with the European immigrants that settled Australia in relatively modern times. A genetic analysis of the hair sample confirmed this.

The researchers sequenced the Aboriginal man's genome — his complete genetic blueprint — and compared it with those from Chinese, Europeans and Africans. By looking at differences, caused by mutations in the DNA code, the researchers were able to infer these populations' relationships to one another. (The more closely the groups are related the fewer differences their DNA should show.)

They found unique mutations in the Aboriginal man's DNA, indicating that his ancestors must have branched off from Europeans and Asians before these two groups split.

"So when Europeans and Asians were a single population, Aborigines' ancestors were already on their way to Australia," Rasmussen said.

However, all three groups showed roughly the same genetic distance from the Africans, indicating they all had split from Africans long ago, he said.

To check the accuracy of the results, the scientists used a total of three Han Chinese genomes, which they sequenced, as well as pre-sequenced genomes from two Europeans and two Africans belonging to the Yoruban people. They found that switching the individuals used in the comparison made little difference in the results, Rasmussen said.

"We are selecting a few individuals to represent whole populations. That does give some limitations — the more genomes we could add, the more certainty we could add and the more detail we could add," he said.

Small changes in our DNA code occur at a constant rate, so using this rate, the scientists were able to calculate an approximate time when the Aboriginal ancestors split off from the ancestral Eurasian population: somewhere between 62,000 and 75,000 years ago.

This calculation fits with the archeological evidence provided by Mungo Man, the name given to human remains found near Lake Mungo in Australia and dated to about 45,000 years ago, since the split would have occurred before the arrival of the Aborigines' ancestors in Australia, Rasmussen said. Based on genetic data, it is impossible to say where, geographically, the split occurred. [8 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

They also found evidence that the Aborigines' ancestors had mixed with archaic humans called Denisovans, whose remains were found in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia.

The genomic analysis indicates that Aborigines are not descended from ancestral Asian populations, the authors write; rather, it implicates multiple waves of migration, with Aboriginal Australians descending from an early wave. Europeans and Asians appear to have emerged later, as the result of later waves. Thousands of years after that, ancestors of American Indians split from Asian populations when they crossed the Bering Strait.

You can follow LiveScience writer Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_Parry. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.Pics
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Neanderthals were ancient mariners

Neanderthals were ancient mariners

29 February 2012 by Michael Marshall
Magazine issue 2854. Subscribe and save
For similar stories, visit the Neanderthals and Human Evolution Topic Guides
IT LOOKS like Neanderthals may have beaten modern humans to the seas. Growing evidence suggests our extinct cousins criss-crossed the Mediterranean in boats from 100,000 years ago - though not everyone is convinced they weren't just good swimmers.

Neanderthals lived around the Mediterranean from 300,000 years ago. Their distinctive "Mousterian" stone tools are found on the Greek mainland and, intriguingly, have also been found on the Greek islands of Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos. That could be explained in two ways: either the islands weren't islands at the time, or our distant cousins crossed the water somehow.

Now, George Ferentinos of the University of Patras in Greece says we can rule out the former. The islands, he says, have been cut off from the mainland for as long as the tools have been on them.

Ferentinos compiled data that showed sea levels were 120 metres lower 100,000 years ago, because water was locked up in Earth's larger ice caps. But the seabed off Greece today drops down to around 300 metres, meaning that when Neanderthals were in the region, the sea would have been at least 180 metres deep (Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2012.01.032).

Ferentinos thinks Neanderthals had a seafaring culture for tens of thousands of years. Modern humans are thought to have taken to the seas just 50,000 years ago, on crossing to Australia.

The journeys to the Greek islands from the mainland were quite short - 5 to 12 kilometres - but according to Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island, the Neanderthals didn't stop there. In 2008 he found similar stone tools on Crete, which he says are at least 130,000 years old. Crete has been an island for some 5 million years and is 40 kilometres from its closest neighbour - suggesting far more ambitious journeys.

Strasser agrees Neanderthals were seafaring long before modern humans, in the Mediterranean at least. He thinks early hominins made much more use of the sea than anyone suspects, and may have used the seas as a highway, rather than seeing them as a barrier. But the details remain lost in history. Any craft were presumably made from wood, so rotted away long ago. The oldest known Mediterranean boat, a dugout canoe from Lake Bracciano in Italy, is just 7000 years old. Ferentinos speculates that Neanderthals may have made something similar.

There is a simpler explanation for how they reached the islands, says Paul Pettitt of the University of Sheffield, UK: maybe they just swam there. Pettitt also points out that the tools on the islands have not been chemically dated, so estimates of their age are based entirely on their design.

Even if Ferentinos is right, the Neanderthals were probably not the first hominin seafarers. One million-year-old stone tools have been found on the Indonesian island of Flores (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature 08844). Something, perhaps primitive Homo erectus, crossed the sea to Flores before Neanderthals even evolved.

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Human fossils hint at new species

Human fossils hint at new species

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

Scientists say the specimens display features that are quite distinct from fully modern humans
Continue reading the main story
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The remains of what may be a previously unknown human species have been identified in southern China.

The bones, which represent at least five individuals, have been dated to between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago.

But scientists are calling them simply the Red Deer Cave people, after one of the sites where they were unearthed.

The team has told the PLoS One journal that far more detailed analysis of the fossils is required before they can be ascribed to a new human lineage.

"We're trying to be very careful at this stage about definitely classifying them," said study co-leader Darren Curnoe from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

"One of the reasons for that is that in the science of human evolution or palaeoanthropology, we presently don't have a generally agreed, biological definition for our own species (Homo sapiens), believe it or not. And so this is a highly contentious area," he told BBC News.

Much of the material has been in Chinese collections for some time but has only recently been subjected to detailed analysis.

The remains of some of the individuals come from Maludong (or Red Deer Cave), near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province. A further skeleton was discovered at Longlin, in neighbouring Guangxi Province.

The skulls and teeth from the two locations are very similar to each other, suggesting they are from the same population.


Scientists continue to excavate at Maludong
But their features are quite distinct from what you might call a fully modern human, says the team. Instead, the Red Deer Cave people have a mix of archaic and modern characteristics.

In general, the individuals had rounded brain cases with prominent brow ridges. Their skull bones were quite thick. Their faces were quite short and flat and tucked under the brain, and they had broad noses.

Their jaws jutted forward but they lacked a modern-human-like chin. Computed Tomography (X-ray) scans of their brain cavities indicate they had modern-looking frontal lobes but quite archaic-looking anterior, or parietal, lobes. They also had large molar teeth.

Dr Curnoe and colleagues put forward two possible scenarios in their PLoS One paper for the origin of the Red Deer Cave population.

One posits that they represent a very early migration of a primitive-looking Homo sapiens that lived separately from other forms in Asia before dying out.


How the Red Deer Cave people might have looked 11,500 years ago
Another possibility contends that they were indeed a distinct Homo species that evolved in Asia and lived alongside our own kind until remarkably recently.

A third scenario being suggested by scientists not connected with the research is that the Red Deer Cave people could be hybrids.

"It's possible these were modern humans who inter-mixed or bred with archaic humans that were around at the time," explained Dr Isabelle De Groote, a palaeoanthropologist from London's Natural History Museum.

"The other option is that they evolved these more primitive features independently because of genetic drift or isolation, or in a response to an environmental pressure such as climate."

Dr Curnoe agreed all this was "certainly possible".

Attempts are being made to extract DNA from the remains. This could yield information about interbreeding, just as genetic studies have on the closely related human species - the Neanderthals and an enigmatic group of people from Siberia known as the Denisovans.

Whatever their true place in the Homo family tree, the Red Deer People are an important find simply because of the dearth of well dated, well described specimens from this part of the world.

And their unearthing all adds to the fascinating and increasingly complex story of human migration and development.


Project leaders Darren Curnoe and Ji Xueping discuss the Longlin skull
"The Red Deer People were living at what was a really interesting time in China, during what we call the epipalaeolithic or the end of the Stone Age," says Dr Curnoe.

"Not far from Longlin, there are quite well known archaeological sites where some of the very earliest evidence for the epipalaeolithic in East Asia has been found.

"These were occupied by very modern looking people who are already starting to make ceramics - pottery - to store food. And they're already harvesting from the landscape wild rice. There was an economic transition going on from full-blown foraging and gathering towards agriculture."

Quite how the Red Deer People fit into this picture is unclear. The research team is promising to report further investigations into some of the stone tools and cultural artefacts discovered at the dig sites.

The co-leader on the project is Professor Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter

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MYSTERIOUS DARK-SKINNED STONE AGE PEOPLE FOUND

MYSTERIOUS DARK-SKINNED STONE AGE PEOPLE FOUND
The venison-loving Red Deer Cave People had an unusual mix of primitive and modern features.

By Jennifer Viegas
Wed Mar 14, 2012 11:00 AM ET
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THE GIST
Fossils from two China caves have revealed a previously unknown Stone Age people.
The mysterious humans, called the Red Deer Cave people, had a mix of primitive and modern features.
The Red Deer Cave people may represent a new hominid species.
enlarge
An artist's reconstruction of a member of the newly found Red Deer Cave People. Click to enlarge this image.
Peter Schouten
A newly found Stone Age people featured darker skin, an unusual mix of primitive and modern features and had a strong taste for venison.

Remains of possibly four individuals of the so-called "Red Deer Cave People" were unearthed in southwest China and may represent a new species of human.

The fossils from two caves, date to just 14,500 to 11,500 years ago. Until now, no hominid remains younger than 100,000 years old have been found in mainland East Asia resembling any other species than our own.

"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," said Darren Curnoe, associate professor in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales and lead author of a study about the find in the journal PLoS One.

"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," added Curnoe .

PHOTOS: Faces of Our Ancestors

Since the prehistoric humans lived in areas with a lot of sunlight and ultraviolet radiation, they were likely dark-skinned.

Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Curnoe and their colleagues studied the fossils, which represent the remains of at least three individuals.

For now, the mysterious humans are being called the "Red Deer Cave people," since one of the caves where they were found is Maludong (meaning Red Deer Cave) and these individuals loved that animal.

"They clearly had a taste for venison, with evidence they hunted and cooked these large deer in the cave," Curnoe explained.


WATCH VIDEO: Clues from the pelvis of the human ancestor, Ardi, indicate she walked upright on two legs.
These people may represent an entirely new evolutionary line on the human family tree.

"First, their skulls are anatomically unique," he said. "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."

The isolation suggests that if the Red Deer Cave people did interbreed, they did so in a limited way. The nearby modern humans at this time were the last hunter-gatherers known to this region. They had just begun to make pottery for food storage and to gather rice. Both activities mark the first steps toward full-blown farming.

It is possible that the mysterious Stone Age people might represent a very early and previously unknown migration of modern humans out of Africa. This population may not have contributed genetically to living people.

"What the discovery shows is just how complicated, how interesting, human evolutionary history was in Asia right at the end of the Ice Age," Curnoe said.

"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.

He added, "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."

NEWS: Footprints Show How Our Ancestors Walked

Colin Groves, a professor in the School of Archaeology & Anthropology at the Australian National University, told Discovery News that the new humans "are clearly related to Homo sapiens in general, but if they differ absolutely, then by definition they are a different species."

"In the present case, one can envisage the stem that eventually gave rise to Homo sapiens emerging from Africa and spreading over much of tropical and subtropical Asia, perhaps never very numerous or widespread, and becoming divided into several isolated or semi-isolated populations; and when Homo sapiens later spread out of Africa, these earlier sapiens-like species disappeared, being out-competed with some interbreeding with Homo sapiens," Groves continued.

The people may be linked to the Skhul/Qafzeh people out of Israel and/or the equally mysterious Denisova people from Altai, Groves said. Curnoe and his team are now attempting to recover DNA from the samples, which could answer these and other questions.Source
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Red Deer Cave people

'Red Deer Cave people' may be new species of human
Stone age remains of people with a penchant for home-cooked venison could represent a new human evolutionary line

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Ian Sample, science correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 March 2012 11.11 EDT
Article history

A skull, possibly from a new species of human, recovered from Longlin cave in Guangxi province, China. Photograph: Darren Curnoe
The fossilised remains of stone age people recovered from two caves in south west China may belong to a new species of human that survived until around the dawn of agriculture.

The partial skulls and other bone fragments, which are from at least four individuals and are between 14,300 and 11,500 years old, have an extraordinary mix of primitive and modern anatomical features that stunned the researchers who found them.

Named the Red Deer Cave people, after their apparent penchant for home-cooked venison, they are the most recent human remains found anywhere in the world that do not closely resemble modern humans.

The individuals differ from modern humans in their jutting jaws, large molar teeth, prominent brows, thick skulls, flat faces and broad noses. Their brains were of average size by ice age standards.

"They could be a new evolutionary line or a previously unknown modern human population that arrived early from Africa and failed to contribute genetically to living east Asians," said Darren Curnoe, who led the research team at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

"While finely balanced, I think the evidence is slightly weighted towards the Red Deer Cave people representing a new evolutionary line. First, their skulls are anatomically unique. They look very different to all modern humans, whether alive today or in Africa 150,000 years ago," Curnoe told the Guardian.

"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. We might infer from this isolation that they either didn't interbreed or did so in a limited way."

One partial skeleton, with much of the skull and teeth, and some rib and limb bones, was recovered from Longlin cave in Guangxi province. More than 30 bones, including at least three partial skulls, two lower jaws and some teeth, ribs and limb fragments, were unearthed at nearby Maludong, or Red Deer Cave, near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan province.

At Maludong, fossil hunters also found remnants of various mammals, all of them species still around today, except for giant red deer, the remains of which were found in abundance. "They clearly had a taste for venison, with evidence they cooked these large deer in the cave," Curnoe said.

The findings are reported in the journal PLoS ONE.

The stone age bones are particularly important because scientists have few human fossils from Asia that are well described and reliably dated, making the story of the peopling of Asia hopelessly vague. The latest findings point to a far more complex picture of human evolution than was previously thought.

"The discovery of the Red Deer Cave people shows just how complicated and interesting human evolutionary history was in Asia right at the end of the ice age. We had multiple populations living in the area, probably representing different evolutionary lines: the Red Deer Cave people on the East Asian continent, Homo floresiensis, or the 'Hobbit', on the island of Flores in 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 this last decade," Curnoe said.

Much of Asia was also occupied by Neanderthals and another group of archaic humans called the Denisovans. Scientists learned of the Denisovans after recovering a fossilised little finger from the Denisova cave in the Altai mountains of southern Siberia in 2010.

The fossils from Longlin cave were found in 1979 by a geologist prospecting in the area. At the time, researchers removed only the lower jaw and a few fragments of rib and limb bones from the cave wall. The rest of the skeleton was left encased in a block of rock, which sat in the basement of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Kunming, Yunnan, for 30 years. The fossils were rediscovered in 2009 by Ji Xueping, a researcher at the institute, who teamed up with Curnoe to examine the remains.

"It was clear from what we could see that the remains were very primitive and likely to be scientifically important. We had a skilled technician remove the bones from the rock, and they were glued back together. Only then was it clear what we had found: a partial skeleton with a very unusual anatomy," Curnoe said.

The fossils at Maludong were found in 1989 but went unstudied until 2008.

Lumps of charcoal uncovered alongside the Longlin fossils were carbon dated to 11,500 years, a time when modern humans in southern China began to make pottery for food storage and to gather wild rice in some of the first steps towards full-scale farming.

Marta Mirazón Lahr, an evolutionary biologist at Cambridge University, is convinced the remains are from modern humans. The unusual features, she said, suggest the Red Deer Cave people are either "late descendants of an early population of modern humans in Asia" or a very small population that developed the traits through a process known as genetic drift.

Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum, London, was similarly sceptical.

"The human remains from the Longlin Cave and Maludong are very important, particularly because we do not have much well-described and well-dated material from the late Pleistocene of China.

"The fossils are unlike recent populations of modern humans in several respects, and the mosaic of more archaic features could indicate the dispersal of a poorly known and more primitive form of modern human that left Africa before the main exodus at about 60,000 years. This dispersal could have reached as far as China, surviving there for many millennia, before disappearing in the last 12,000 years."

But he added: "There might be another possible explanation for the more archaic features. Could these alternatively be attributed to gene flow from a more archaic population that survived alongside modern humans? In the case of the Longlin Cave and Maludong fossils, the most likely candidate would be the enigmatic Denisovans who apparently interbred with the ancestors of modern Australasians somewhere in south east Asia. Could these Chinese fossils be further evidence of such hybridisation?"Link
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Mysterious Chinese Fossils May Be New Human Species

Article:
Mysterious Chinese Fossils May Be New Human Species
Charles Choi, LiveScience ContributorDate: 14 March 2012 Time: 11:01 AM ET
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A view of a skull from the Red Deer Cave People. Researchers found the species had unique features seen neither in modern nor known archaic lineages of humans.
CREDIT: Darren Curnoe
View full size image
Mysterious fossils of what may be a previously unknown type of human have been uncovered in caves in China, ones that possess a highly unusual mix of bygone and modern human features, scientists reveal.

Surprisingly, the fossils are only between 11,500 and 14,500 years old. That means they would have shared the landscape with modern humans when China's earliest farmers were first appearing.

"These new fossils might be of a previously unknown species, one that survived until the very end of the ice age around 11,000 years ago," said researcher Darren Curnoe, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

"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," Curnoe added.

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The skeletons

At least three fossil specimens were uncovered in 1989 by miners quarrying limestone at Maludong or Red Deer Cave near the city of Mengzi in southwest China. They remained unstudied until 2008. The scientists are calling them the "Red Deer Cave People," because they cooked extinct red deer in their namesake cave. [Photos of the Red Deer Cave People]

The fossil specimens of the possibly new human species were uncovered in 1989 by miners quarrying limestone at Maludong or Red Deer Cave near the city of Mengzi in southwest China. They remained unstudied until 2008. Shown here, Darren Curnoe (right) and Andy Herries (left) excavating at Maludong in 2008.
CREDIT: Darren Curnoe
View full size image
"They clearly had a taste for venison, with evidence they cooked these large deer in the cave," Curnoe said.

Carbon dating, a technique that estimates the radioactive decay of carbon in samples of charcoal found with the fossils helped establish their age. The charcoal also showed they knew how to use fire. Stone artifacts found at the Maludong site also suggest they were toolmakers.

A Chinese geologist found a fourth partial skeleton, which looks very similar to the Maludong fossils, in a cave near the village of Longlin in southwest China in 1979 while prospecting the area for oil. It stayed encased in a block of rock neglected in the basement of an archaeological research institute until 2009, when the international team of scientists rediscovered the fossils.

"In 2009, when I was in China working with co-author Professor Ji Xueping, he showed me the block of rock that contained the skull," Curnoe recalled. "After picking my own jaw up from the floor, we decided we had to make the remains a priority of our research."

Jutting jaws and flaring cheeks

The Stone Age fossils are unusual mosaics of modern and archaic human anatomical features, as well as previously unseen characteristics. This makes them difficult to classify as either a new species or an unusual type of modern human.

This artist's reconstruction by Peter Schouten suggests what the Red Deer Cave People may have looked like when alive some time between 11,500 and 14,500 years ago.
CREDIT: Peter Schouten
View full size image
For instance, the Red Deer Cave people had long, broad and tall frontal lobes like modern humans. These brain lobes are located immediately behind the forehead, and are linked with personality and behavior.

However, the Red Deer Cave people differ from modernHomo sapiens in their prominent brow ridges, thick skull bones, flat upper faces with a broad nose, jutting jaws that lack a humanlike chin, brains moderate in size by ice age human standards, large molar teeth, and primitively short parietal lobes — brain lobes at the top of the head associated with sensory data. "These are primitive features seen in our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago," Curnoe said. [Learn About the Human Skeleton]

Unique features of the Red Deer Cave people seen neither in modern nor known archaic lineages of humans include a strongly curved forehead bone, very broad nose and eye sockets, and very flat cheeks that flare widely to the sides to make space for large chewing muscles. In addition, the place where the lower jaw forms a joint with the base of the skull is unusually wide and deep.

All in all, the Red Deer Cave people are the youngest population to be found anywhere in the world whose anatomy does not comfortably fit within the range of modern humans, whether they be modern humans from 150 or 150,000 years ago, the researchers noted.

"In short, they're anatomically unique among all members of the human evolutionary tree," Curnoe told LiveScience.

Mysterious population in Asia

The Red Deer Cave people lived in China at the end of the ice age. "They survived the final and one of the worst cold episodes, known as the Last Glacial Maximum, which ended around 20,000 years ago," Curnoe said.

"The period around 15,000 to 11,000 years ago when they thrived in southwest China is known as the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, and it saw a shift to climates and ecological communities the same as those of today," Curnoe added. "It also saw the demise of the megafaunain most places, including a giant deer that was exploited by the Red Deer Cave people and recovered in large numbers from the Maludong site."

"This time also saw a major shift in the behavior of modern humans in southern China, who began to make pottery for food storage and to gather wild rice — this marks some of the first steps towards full-blown farming," Curnoe said. "The Red Deer Cave people were sharing the landscape with these early pre-farming communities, but we have no idea yet how they may have interacted or whether they competed for resources." [10 Things That Make Humans Special]

Although modern-day Asia contains more than half of the world's population, researchers still know little about humans there after our ancestors settled Eurasia about 70,000 years ago, Curnoe said. No human fossils less than 100,000 years old had been found in mainland East Asia that resembled anything other than anatomically modern humans until now. These new findings are fossil evidence that this region may not have been devoid of our evolutionary cousins.

"The discovery of the Red Deer Cave People opens the next chapter in the latest stage of the human evolutionary story, the Asian chapter," Curnoe said. "It's a story that's just beginning to be told."

Defining a human

A key reason the scientists have not yet decided how to classify the Red Deer People scientifically has to do with one of the major ongoing questions for scientists investigating human evolution — "the lack of a satisfactory biological definition of our own species, Homo sapiens," Curnoe said. "We still don't have one that most of us agree upon."

"I think the evidence is slightly weighted towards the Red Deer Cave people representing a new evolutionary line," Curnoe said. "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. We might infer from this isolation that they either didn't interbreed or did so in a limited way."

Recent findings suggest that other, different evolutionary lines may have also lived in the region, such as the "hobbit" or Homo floresiensis on the island of Flores in Indonesia.

"This paints an amazing picture of diversity, one we had no clue about until this last decade," Curnoe said.

The Red Deer Cave people might possibly even be related to a mysterious branch of humanity known as the Denisovans only discovered in the past two years, whose DNA suggests they were neither like us nor Neanderthals.

"It is certainly possible that the Red Deer Cave people (represent) an interbreeding event between modern humans and some other population like the Denisovans," Curnoe said.

Ultimately, to see how closely or distantly related the Red Deer Cave people are to modern humans or even the Denisovans, the scientists want to extract and test DNA from the fossils. "We've had one attempt already, but without success," Curnoe said. "We'll just have to wait and see if we're successful in our future work."

The scientists detailed their findings online March 14 in the journal PLoS ONE.
http://www.livescience.com/19039-human-species-china-cave.html
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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Timor Deep Sea Fishing

http://www.world-archaeology.com/news/east-timor-early-deep-sea-fishe...
By Chris Catling, January 6, 2012.From issue 51, page 11
The idea that the early humans who migrated to South-east Asia and on to
Australia 50,000 or more years ago lacked the skills to build boats has
been dealt a blow by evidence for deep-sea fishing 42,000 years ago.
Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra have
found 38,000 fish bones from 2,843 individual fish dating back to the 40th
millennium in the Jerimalai cave at the eastern end of the island of East
Timor.
Crucially, about half of the fish in the oldest cave strata are fast-swimming
pelagic (or deep-sea) fish species, such as shark and tuna, that are very
difficult to catch in inshore waters using nets or spears.
The team, which is led by ANU professor Susan O'Connor, also found a fishhook
fragment at Jerimalai made from a mollusc shell, and dated to between 23,000
and 16,000 years ago. Writing about the find in the journal Science, O'Connor
says that the hook would have been attached to a line and baited, and may
have been used in deep-water fishing, though it would probably not have been
suitable for catching fast-moving pelagic species such as tuna. It is evidence,
however, that ancient people had the necessary craft skills to make other
types of hooks.
Even though sea levels were significantly lower 50,000 years ago, the
colonisation of Australia and nearby islands would still have required sea
crossings of at least 30km; but whether early migrants could build boats or
whether they simply drifted on logs or crudely made rafts, is still a matter
of fierce debate. Professor O'Connor admits to having been a sceptic herself
at one time, simply because direct evidence for early boat-building skills has
been lacking: the earliest surviving boats are a mere 10,000 years old, and no
bones from deep-water fish have previously been found that are more than
20,000 years old. She now believes the finds from Jerimalai indicate that
prehistoric migrants had high-level maritime skills and, by implication, the
technology needed to make the sea crossings to reach Indonesia, Papua New
Guinea, and Australia.
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