Ancient human skull discovered with Neanderthal characteristics
A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has revealed that a 100,000-year-old human-like skull found in China bears resemblance to a Neanderthal, providing further evidence of interbreeding between ancient species.
According to the report in Live Science , the so-called human skull, which was found 35 years ago in northern China alongside teeth and bone fragments, has an inner ear that is characteristic of Neanderthals, while other of its features are human. In fact, the features of the skull, which has been named Xujiayao 15, are so intermingled between species that it has been referred to as a ‘non-Neanderthal form of archaic human’.
In the mid-1990s, computer topography (CT) scans revealed that nearly all Neanderthals possessed a specific arrangement of their semicircular canals, a part of the inner ear that helps to keep balance. The pattern of semicircular canal sizes and positions seen in Neanderthals was often used to set them apart from both earlier and modern humans.
"We fully expected the scan to reveal a temporal labyrinth that looked much like a modern human one, but what we saw was clearly typical of a Neanderthal," said study co-author Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis. In comparison, none of the three other archaic human skulls they analyzed from different parts of China had this type of inner ear.
The Xujiayao 15 inner ear. Credit: Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Science
The study authors have been cautious about drawing conclusions from the findings. "You can't rely on one anatomical feature or one piece of DNA as the basis for sweeping assumptions about the migrations of hominid species from one place to another," said Trinkaus. Instead, "what these findings say to me are that characteristics were probably more varied in ancient human populations than we think."
Nevertheless, they do suggest that the origins of humans are much more complex than originally believed and that there is little factual weight to the neat and tidy family trees that can often be found in science textbooks. “The idea of distinct, separate lineages in this time period in human evolution is meaningless — it was much more of a labyrinth than that," said Trinkaus.
Featured image: A Neanderthal skull from Forbes' Quarry, Gibraltar. Discovered 1848. Source: Wikipedia