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Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal skulls.

Prehistoric teeth found in China may point to mysterious new human species


The more research that is done into the prehistoric origins of humans, the more crowded it gets.

According to a new study, there may well have been multiple species of primitive humans between 60,000 and 120,000 years ago – including a mysterious people who do not fall under the categories of either Neanderthals, Denisovans, or modern humans.

Skull fragments and teeth discovered in 1976 in a cave in Xujiayoa, China are raising surprising questions about the prehistoric origins of humanity. Dental remains were recovered from four different individuals, and were examined for size, shape and surface of the teeth, as well as other defining characteristics. When the teeth were compared to a database of over 5,000 teeth of known species, María Martinón-Torres of the National Research Centre on Human Evolution found that they did not match any of the accepted hominids. 

Shape, size, placement and wear on teeth are indicators of species.

Shape, size, placement and wear on teeth are indicators of species. Credit: Martinon-Torres

BBC Earth reports, “We know there were as many as four other early humans living on Earth when modern humans were still confined to Africa. The Neanderthals lived in Europe, the Denisovans in Asia and the "hobbit" Homo floresiensis in Indonesia: plus there was a mysterious fourth group from Eurasia that interbred with the Denisovans.”

The question is now whether the teeth represent a hybrid of Denisovans and modern humans, or whether scientists have an entirely new human species on their hands.

Martinón-Torres and colleagues recently published a study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, providing a comparative analysis of the teeth found in northern China, and stated that the teeth are different from those of modern humans, Homo sapiens. The remains possess some primitive features similar to, but not exactly matching Neanderthals or Homo erectus.

“Teeth are like ‘landscapes in miniature’. Each of those slopes, grooves, valleys define a pattern or combination of features that can be distinctive of a population,” Martinón-Torres told BBC Earth.

While the findings are surprising and mysterious, experts are reluctant to confirm it represents a whole new species. "What we have seen is an unknown group for us," continued Martinón-Torres. "It's not H. sapiens and it's not H. neanderthalensis. They have a mixture of something very primitive, which is currently unknown. We cannot go further to say it's a new species because we need to compare it to other things."

Still other researchers insist that while further research needs to be done, the teeth are unique enough to represent an unknown variant based on their surface features alone.

A mix of hominid (genus Homo) models; (from right to left) H. habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus; H. antecessor - male, female, H. heidelbergensis; H. neanderthalensis - girl, male, H. sapiens sapiens.

A mix of hominid (genus Homo) models; (from right to left) H. habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus; H. antecessor - male, female, H. heidelbergensis; H. neanderthalensis - girl, male, H. sapiens sapiens. Public Domain

These aren’t the first potential ancient humans to have confounded researchers. In 2013 a Royal Society meeting on ancient DNA revealed a dramatic finding – the genome of one of our ancient ancestors, the Denisovans, contains a segment of DNA that seems to have come from another species that is currently unknown to science. The discovery suggested that there was rampant interbreeding between ancient human species in Europe and Asia more than 30,000 years ago. But, far more significant was the finding that they also mated with a mystery species from Asia – one that is neither human nor Neanderthal.

Could there be a connection between the Chinese remains and that unidentified branch of humanity?

Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London said of the 2013 DNA find, “What it begins to suggest is that we're looking at a 'Lord of the Rings'-type world - that there were many hominid populations.”

China is home to another controversial prehistoric population – the Red Deer Cave people, dated between 14,500 and 11,500 years. Fossils of the early hominids were discovered in a cave in southern China. While their facial features do not resemble modern humans, experts are reluctant to classify them as a unique species pending DNA extraction.

Red Deer Cave people, skull and reconstruction.

Red Deer Cave people, skull and reconstruction. Wikimedia, (CC BY 2.5)

If the Xujiayoa teeth studied by Martinón-Torres and colleagues do reveal an ancient Asian ancestor, history books and the conventional theory which says Africa was the cradle of modern humans will have to be changed.

Human evolution is not as simple as we like to think, but as more remains and fossils are recovered, especially with the aid of DNA evidence, these mysteries may quickly be resolved. The further we proceed into our future, the more we reveal about our ancient past.

Featured Image: Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal skulls. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Liz Leafloor



The human evolution must perform the evolution of intelligence, but I have found only "the evolution of emotions". These three processes intersect at one point - baby / human infant that is incapable for independent survival for many years. That is not an evolutionary mistake, on the contrary, that is the key element. By observing his mother’s behavior, a process called MSP/multi self-projection passively occurs in baby’s brain when child perceives guardians body as his own. That way infant’s CNS immediately learns the shortest way to get something done which enables the creation of many more similar thinking processes till the moment when a minimal number of thinking processes are required in order to effect of self-consciousness arise.
To connect all this with a huge number of scientific data (Denisovans, Homo naledi, Scientific Adam, Mitochondrial Eve, autism, speech, pleasure in the presence of fire, dreams...) required membership in the Mensa organization... The biggest picture ( the framework ) for all scientific data ( even A.I. because start, origin of original, in making AI is crucial / what has been missing) is FEST theory.

This is an interesting finding. It could be that they have found one of the intermediate individuals between Neanderthal, Denisovans, and H Sapiens. Wouldn't an individual who was halfway between any of those species have traits of all three.
As for modern humans evolving in the Americas. That's total speculation, there is absolutely NO evidence for that. As a matter of fact the lack of fossils refutes the claim absolutely.

Those human foot prints in dinosaur prints are a complete hoax. Some Creationist that forgot to read Exodus 20:16. How can you follow a group of so called Christians that blatantly lie. Something about a bunch of swine running off a cliff comes to mind.

Peter Harrap's picture

There is a problem of acceptance and belief here on a number of levels. I grew up in a world so stupid that the very Leakey idea that we were created only around 1.8 millions years ago somewhere in Africa was mandatory as Fact in archeology. Nobody existed before then anywhere. Really.

By the time I read enough it was the late 70s and reports were coming in, printed as fact, again, but this time by the Chinese (in pre-detente Cold War Earth) that they had found human skeletal remains dating from 7.8 million years ago. There were also printed American reports with photographs of fossil human footprints alongside those of dinosaurs in a Colorado river bed. I did not doubt them, and that was pre-computer, pre photoshop, pre digital photography.

 The West refused belief. Completely. Find these reports again now, if you can!!

But if you throw away all your books and take a look around you, there are a number of human races around today, all of whom interbreed and produce variants. Not as many as there are spieces of frog or butterfly, but a fair few.

There a differences in skull and jaw shape, hair colour and quality, skin colour, eye colour and shape. There is an endless variety. The Hindus calculated around 840,000 possible human variations thousands of years ago, and looking around I have no reason to doubt either this figure or the ideas from the Bible and Mahabharata and Koran claiming a number of separate creations and indeed, in the Mahabharata, a number of creators responsible for the different life-forms we see around us today.

I do not state it as fact, and couldn't care less whether it is fact or not, any more than other very Leakey ideas.


Roberto Peron's picture

Human evolution is more akin to a twisted bush than to a tree and the more we find and discover the more twisted that bush becomes.




Liz Leafloor is former Art Director for Ancient Origins Magazine. She has a background as an Editor, Writer, and Graphic Designer. Having worked in news and online media for years, Liz covers exciting and interesting topics like ancient myth, history,... Read More

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