February 14, 2016

An archaic human population surviving in SW China until at least 14,000 years ago


Just a femur but looks like it. Homo heidelbergensis (Denisovan)?

Darren Curnoe, Xueping Li et al. A Hominin Femur with Archaic Affinities from the Late Pleistocene of Southwest China. PLoS ONE 2015. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143332]


The number of Late Pleistocene hominin species and the timing of their extinction are issues receiving renewed attention following genomic evidence for interbreeding between the ancestors of some living humans and archaic taxa. Yet, major gaps in the fossil record and uncertainties surrounding the age of key fossils have meant that these questions remain poorly understood. Here we describe and compare a highly unusual femur from Late Pleistocene sediments at Maludong (Yunnan), Southwest China, recovered along with cranial remains that exhibit a mixture of anatomically modern human and archaic traits. Our studies show that the Maludong femur has affinities to archaic hominins, especially Lower Pleistocene femora. However, the scarcity of later Middle and Late Pleistocene archaic remains in East Asia makes an assessment of systematically relevant character states difficult, warranting caution in assigning the specimen to a species at this time. The Maludong fossil probably samples an archaic population that survived until around 14,000 years ago in the biogeographically complex region of Southwest China.


  1. I read this paper and wasn't sure what to make of it. In part, this is because the paper itself only analyzes a museum sample without reviewing in any depth its dating and source. Also, because another fossil from the same collection appeared to be a very different mix of archaic and modern.

    I certainly wouldn't discount the possibility of a small relict population of archaic hominins surviving until 14kya in East Asia, but the yellow flags associated with the unusual paper that I've mentioned above gives me some pause. If the evidence about the context of the femur were sufficiently strong (e.g. if it was found in remote area that is hard to reach, if it was associated with very primitive stone tools and no modern stone tools, if there was no sign of disturbed strata or the C14 dating was otherwise confirmed to have good methodology), I'd give it more credit. But, in the absence of that kind of data, I would have doubts.

    1. Are you saying that the femur is associated with an Upper Paleolithic toolkit?

      In any case thank you for your observations, when I write these "quickies" I do not normally look at the matter in any depth. It's quite possible that your caution is appropriate therefore.

    2. The paper says absolutely nothing about what tools, fauna, flora or deposition context the remains were found in, except to reference some other bones that seemed more like hybrids of modern and archaic which were found in the same cave. Such single minded focus on one aspect of a problem without considering the overall context, alas, seems to be a somewhat characteristic feature of Chinese archaeology publications, with no recognition that the findings in a paper are much more robust if several independent lines of evidence support them. Data points without a story to embed them in aren't nearly as convincing.


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