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Human fossil discovery complicates evolution research

(Xinhua)

14:38, March 30, 2012

KUNMING, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Scientists have found fossilized remains of a stone age people that show a unique mix of primitive and modern anatomical features, puzzling researchers of human evolution.

Although the Red Deer Cave People have not been proved to be a new species, the discovery reminds scientists of the complexity of human evolution in East Asia given the diversity of neolithic populations here.

Past research about the modern human evolution has focused on the fossil records of Europe and Africa as well as the Levantine corridor connecting them. The role of the vast Asian continent in his evolutionary episode remains largely unknown, said a paper of the findings recently published by Chinese and Australian scientists on Public Library of Science journal.

"It is far too early to conclude on the theory that modern human originated from Africa or any other region. The evolution proves to be more complicated than what we know," said Ji Xueping, a researcher with Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, who led the four-year research with Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales in Australia.

The Red Deer Cave People lived around 14,500 to 11,500 years ago in areas that are today's southwest China, Ji said. They had jutting jaws, prominent brows, thick skulls, flat faces -- features resembling archaic humans that existed at an earlier time, or 250,000 to 40,000 years ago.

The latest finding marks the most recent human remains found so far in the world that retained archaic human features, scientists said.

"It may represent a late-surviving archaic population, perhaps paralleling the situation seen in North Africa," the paper said. "Alternatively, East Asia may have been colonized during multiple waves during the Pleistocene period... The people may reflect a deep population substructure in Africa prior to modern humans dispersing into Eurasia."

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