A fossilised femur found in southwest China may belong to an archaic human species that was thought to be long extinct by the Late Pleistocene age (of the Pleistocene Epoch), according to scientists.
The only human species to walk the Earth today is the Homo sapiens. However in the past, human species, such as the Denisovans or Denisova hominin, the Neanderthals, Homo habilis (‘handy man’), and Homo erectus (“upright man”), overlapped. Some modern humans even have Denisovan genes.
Until now, scientists believed that the last time more than one human species walked the earth was about 40,000 years ago, when the Neanderthals are thought to have died.
According to Dr. Darren Curnoe, author of the study and an Associate Professor in the field of biological anthropology and archaeological sciences at the University of New South Wales’ School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, it was thought that ancient humans on mainland Asia died out about 100,000 years ago.
Dr. Curnoe said that finding a 14,000-year-old leg bone was a huge surprise. If the femur really belongs to an archaic human, that means that modern and archaic humans overlapped for tens of thousands of years in southwest China.
David Begun, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Toronto, stated that he was not convinced by the new discovery. He said that the femur probably belonged to an individual that lived in the Late Pleistocene, Early Holocene, and that it does not have anything that archaic about it. The femur is definitely not of an early Homo lineage, Begun added.
In the new study – published December 17 in the journal PLOS ONE – the scientists compared the newfound femur to that of ancient and modern human species. Some physical features include: narrow shaft, overall small size, very thin cortex (outer layer of the shaft), long femur neck, according to Dr. Curnoe. The traits of the femur resemble those of the earliest individuals of the human genus Homo.
Begun on the other hand says that the femur lacks a lot of pieces, such as the femoral head, to really tell us something about the individual. Because of how damaged and fragmentary the bone is, the measurements could be erroneous, he added.
Another species of ancient humans found on the Island of Flores in Indonesia, is called Homo florensiensis (nicknamed Hobbit) and it lived as late as 17,000 years ago.
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