According to a new study, two recently discovered partial skulls from Xuchang province in Central China have both human and Neanderthal features.
The findings represent something not-yet-seen in the fossil record and they offer new details on the biology and populations of modern human predecessors in eastern Eurasia.
Published in the journal Science, the new study laid out the many distinct features of these partial skulls. The study authors said these individuals had a large brain and skulls with lightly-built cranial vaults and reserved brow ridges, similar to early humans across the Old World. The low and wide braincase that rounded onto the inferior skull seen in these remains is also found in modern humans from Eastern Eurasia.
Much in Common with Neanderthals
However, the study said, these individuals also had features in common with Neanderthals from Western Eurasia: the construction of their semicircular canals and the complex design of the back of the skull.
“The biological nature of the immediate predecessors of modern humans in eastern Eurasia has been poorly known from the human fossil record,” study author Erik Trinkaus, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement. “The discovery of these skulls of late archaic humans, from Xuchang, substantially increases our knowledge of these people.
“The features of these fossils reinforce a pattern of regional population continuity in eastern Eurasia, combined with shared long-terms trends in human biology and populational connections across Eurasia,” Trinkaus added. “They reinforce the unity and dynamic nature of human evolution leading up to modern human emergence.”
Excavated in 2007 and 2014, the two partial skulls were found in a location determined to be populated 105,000 to 125,000 years ago. The study team said the individuals who had these skulls were good hunters, effective at making stone blades from quartz. Ancient remains of horses and cattle, extinct woolly rhinoceros and massive deer, were discovered scattered close to the skull remains.
“Eastern Asian late archaic humans have been interpreted to resemble their Neanderthal contemporaries to some degree,” study author Xiujie Wu, a paleoanthropologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement. “Yet it is only with the discovery of two human crania that the nature of these eastern Eurasian early Late Pleistocene archaic humans is becoming clear.”
Image credit: Xiujie Wu
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