Two skulls that were recently unearthed in China have shockingly been found to have the characteristics of both humans and Neanderthals, which is a mixture that has yet to be seen in any fossil to date. Dating to the Pleistocene era (which you may know as The Ice Age), the two skulls are thought to be between 105,000 to 125,000 years old. While our Neanderthal ancestors were distinctly stockier and shorter than their human counterparts, these new skulls show the distinct characteristics of both species.
Writing in the journal Science, the joint Chinese-US team noted that the brow ridges and bone mass of the skulls were reduced, much like early humans of the era. But, the skulls also featured semicircular ear canals and an enlarged section at the back of their skulls, which was a feature common in Neanderthals. The scientists also noted the importance of the skulls as they marked and conformed to the trend of;
“major increases in brain size (and encephalization) through the Middle Pleistocene, culminating in recent human brain sizes by the earlier Late Pleistocene”.
The size of the brains also rule out that these fossils could belong to Homo Erectus and other known early hominid species, as these earlier species had brains that were much smaller than modern and early humans.
While the findings are exciting, some experts have speculated that the skeletal remains could, in fact belong to the mysterious Denisovans. The Denisovans, a sub-species of human, currently only exist as DNA sequences taken from a tooth and finger bone found in a Siberian cave. The species, who are thought to share a common group origin with Neanderthals, have also been found to have lived amongst and interbreed with early humans. In fact, 3-5% of the DNA of Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians derive from these mysterious peoples. This said, the Chinese-US team wasn’t able to successfully extract DNA from the newly found hybrid skull to confirm the suspicion.
Only time will tell if the scientists will be able to successfully extract DNA from the two samples. Whether or not they’re Denisovans or a new species of humanoid remains a mystery, but until then, hopefully more of these fossils are out there just waiting to be discovered.
Images: Wikimedia Commons, Science