In 1989, a femur and part of a skull were found in a cave in Yunnan Province, southwest China.
Radiocarbon dating in 2008 suggests the sediments where the fossils were found are about 14,000 years old – around the time Homo sapiens (modern humans) migrated to many parts of the world.
However, the ancient features of the bones troubled scientists, who wondered what kind of man the fossils belonged to.
The shape of the skull resembles that of Neanderthals — an ancient human group that disappeared about 40,000 years ago — and the brain appears to have been smaller than that of modern humans.
As a result, some experts in human evolution speculate that the skull may belong to a hybrid group of ancient and modern humans, or to a previously unknown human species that coexisted with our own. The researchers named the group the Red Deer People after the cave where the remains were found.
Now, Chinese scientists have extracted genetic material from the skull and sequenced the DNA. They found that the skull belonged to a woman, who was most likely a member of the direct ancestor of humans – Homo sapiens. Sapiens – not previously unknown humans.
“Ancient DNA technology is a very powerful tool,” said Bing Xu, a professor at the Kunming Institute of Zoology. at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan, who participated in the research, in a press release. “This strongly suggests that the people at Red Deer Cave are modern humans, rather than ancient species such as Neanderthals or Denisovans, despite their unusual morphological features.”
Su and colleagues shared their findings in a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology. Their analysis of the genome revealed which person the bones belonged to They had levels of Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry that were similar to modern humans – indicating that they were not part of a mixed group.
DNA from the Denisovans and Neanderthals, a little-understood group of ancient humans, lives on in some humans today. This is because our ancestors, Homo sapiens, encountered these groups as they spread across the globe and interbred with them.
The first Americans?
The researchers compared the genes extracted from the ancient DNA to the genomes of other people around the world — both modern and ancient.
They found that the bones belonged to an individual closely related to Native American ancestry in East Asia. Researchers believe that this group of people moved north to Siberia and then crossed the Bering Strait to become the first Americans.
“Its genome fills in a very important missing piece of the overall story of how humans came to the Americas. Most work has focused on the Siberians, the other branch of Native American ancestry, but until this paper little was known about the ancestors of Native Americans in East Asia. Because they represent most Native American ancestry, this “Understanding branching is critical,” Jennifer Ruff, a geneticist and anthropologist at the University of Kansas and author of “Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas,” said by email.
Roff, who was not involved in the research, was included.
But what explains the unusual morphological features of the remains?
The researchers described the genome as having “low coverage,” meaning it does not contain enough detail to provide an explanation for why the bones differ. Modern Human Skeletons. The acidic soil and hot, humid conditions where the skull was found allowed scientists to recover only 11.3% of the genome. This is the first time DNA has been sequenced from a human fossil discovered in southern China.
The study indicated who the bones belonged to It had a lot of genetic diversity, suggesting that different lineages of early modern humans must have coexisted in Southeast Asia during the Late Stone Age. The study suggested that the region may have been a refuge at the height of the Ice Age.
“I know these fossils better than anyone,” Cornu, who was not involved in the latest study, said by email. As the DNA suggests, even if they were modern humans, they were very anatomically confused.
“How do we reconcile that? The anatomical form of people in the past could have been — over a long period of time — very flexible and responsive to the environment and lifestyle of these early people. That’s probably something that’s been missing since we started farming.”
Analysis of the genome of the Red Deer Cave will help build a more complete picture of ancient humans in East and Southeast Asia – an exciting place for paleontologists.
Next, the Chinese team hopes to find further support for its findings by sequencing ancient human DNA using fossils dating back to Southeast Asia, specifically the Red Deer Cave people.
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