Animal’s Daily Paleo-anthropology News

Before I get into this, check out the latest installment of Blood and Gold over at Glibertarians!

Now then:  The picture of human origins just keeps getting more and more complicated.  Recently, in China, another ancient skull has been uncovered, and it appears to be something we haven’t seen before.

Skull of the ancient hominin from China. (Wu et al., Journal of Human Evolution, 2023)

An international team of scientists has described an ancient human fossil in China unlike any other hominin found before.

It resembles neither the lineage that split to form Neanderthals, nor Denisovans, nor us, suggesting our current version of the human family tree needs another branch.

The jaw, skull, and leg bones belonging to this yet-to-be classified hominin, labeled HLD 6, were discovered in Hualongdong, in East Asia, in 2019. In the years since, experts at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have struggled to match the remains to a known lineage.

The hominin’s face is similarly structured to that of the modern human lineage, which split from Homo erectus as far back as 750,000 years ago. But the individual’s lack of chin appears more like that of a Denisovan – an extinct species of ancient hominin in Asia that split from Neanderthals more than 400,000 years ago.

Here’s what that increasingly-complex picture of human evolution looks like given current evidence:

Family tree of early humans that may have lived in Eurasia more than 50,000 years ago. (Kay Prüfer et al., Nature, 2014)

This is fascinating stuff.

What’s amazing about all this, given the complexity of humans throughout history, is how little of this genetic diversity has been passed down to us.  While anyone whose ancestry is at least in part not sub-Saharan African has small percentages of either Neandertal or Denisovan DNA (or both) as large  mammals go, humans really don’t show much genetic diversity.

The entire picture hasn’t been revealed yet.  But what there is of it makes for interesting viewing.