Thursday, October 15, 2015

Big-Toothed Fossil May Be Primitive New Human

Penghu 1 mandible. Its morphology suggests the presence of a robust, primitive type of hominin so far unrecognised in the Pleistocene Asian fossil record (Y Kaifu)

Photos: Faces of Our Ancestors

The first known prehistoric human from Taiwan has been identified and may represent an entirely new species that lived as recently as 10,000 years ago, according to a new study.

The newly discovered big-toothed human, "Penghu 1," strengthens the growing body of evidence that Homo sapiens was not the only species from our genus living in Europe and Asia between 200,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Anthropologists have learned that Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo floresiensis (a.k.a. the "Hobbit Human") lived in Europe and Asia within that time frame. Penghu 1, which is described in the latest issue of Nature Communications, adds to that already impressive list and might have co-existed -- and even interbred -- with our species.

"The available evidence at least does not exclude the possibility that they survived until the appearance of Homo sapiens in the region, and it is tempting to speculate about their possible contact," co-author Yousuke Kaifu, who is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of Tokyo, told Discovery News.

Kaifu, lead author Chun-Hsiang Chang, and their team studied the remains of the new human, which is represented by a jawbone with big teeth still in it. Chang explained that fishermen dredged up the jawbone off the coast of Taiwan in Penghu Channel. The fishermen sold it to a local antique shop, where collector Kun-Yu Tsai purchased it. Tsai donated his collection to the National Museum of Natural Science in Taiwan, where Chang works in the Department of Geology.

Chang and his team recognized the importance of Penghu 1, which they theorize could represent a new human species or a regional group of Homo erectus, a.k.a. "Upright Man."

"Penghu 1 is a national treasure in Taiwan and is well preserved at my museum with high security," Chang said.

He and his colleagues believe that, due to its size, the jawbone came from an adult individual and possibly a senior, "because its teeth are worn severely," Chang said.

The jawbone's size further reveals that Penghu 1 was not a dwarf, unlike tiny Homo floresiensis, which lived on the island of Flores, Indonesia, where other animals were also smaller than usual.
Penghu 1 instead lived on what was then mainland Asia in an ecosystem that included many other animals.

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