Chinese Fossils May Be Evidence of Early Ancestors of Humans

Scientists believe fossils found in China could be from relatives of humans.

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A species reminiscent of humans may have lived in eastern Asia as recently as 11,500 years ago, Australian researchers have found.

[Panorama: today in photos.]

The fossil skulls have an "unusual mixture of modern human traits … and some unusual features" that are more likely to have come from human ancestors, researchers say. The fossils were orginial discovered in 1989 near the southwestern Chinese city of Mengzi, but have only been recently analyzed

"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," Darren Curnoe, one of the authors of the report, published in the journal PLoS One, said in a statement.

The paper says the skulls have an interesting mix of modern human features and archaic ones that were more common on human ancestors. This potentially "late surviving archaic population" likely shared the land with some of China's earliest people.

"Alternatively, they might represent a very early and previously unknown migration of modern humans out of Africa," Curnoe said. If that's the case, there are likely few if any modern relatives of the people, because of DNA variances found in the specimens.

hey "may not have contributed genetically to living people," he added.

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The specimens have a flatter, wider face than other fossils found of early humans, and vary from fossils found of other archaic species.

No archaic species fossils younger than 100,000 years old have been found in eastern Asia, leading researchers to believe that no archaic species lived there before modern humans migrated to the continent from Africa. The discovery puts that hypothesis into question, as early human relatives could have possibly lived there much more recently.