I’m going to talk about one of my favorite early human ancestors. The Red Deer Cave People!! These people lived in northern China up until about 70kya. Discovery of these ancient humans happened in 2012 when bones of these people were found in southwestern China. Specifically, jaw and cranial bones were found along with some teeth from two cave sites in SW China. Just last month it was announced that yet another bone from these people was discovered and it was termed as being “highly unusual.”
The Red Deer Cave People continue to be a somewhat mysterious group of ancient humans ancestors. They were a pre-modern people and analysis of their bones and teeth show some remarkable similarities to archaic humans DESPITE the fact that they lived between about 14kya and 11kya. These dates are based on radiocarbon dating of charcoal found with the bones and teeth.
What is odd is that the anatomy of the Red Deer Cave People is unlike what we’ve seen before in modern humans. Thus, we can say these people were unique and a real mystery. Many theories are being thrown around about their origins with some suggesting they could have been a very early modern people who settled in the region of SW China and perhaps northern China sometime around 100kya and who became isolated. Others theorize that they were a late surviving archaic people in much the same way as some isolated Neanderthal populations were.
Other theories postulate that the Red Deer Cave People were possibly hybrids somewhere between modern humans and some as yet unknown archaic species of ancient humans. These theories are based on what are considered to be “unusual traits” of the Red Deer Cave People. Thus far researchers have been unable to determine if these people were hybrids or if they belonged to some known archaic species of ancient human ancestors.
Originally back in 2012 specimens found in China’s Longlin or Laomaocao cave were thought to be the remains of some of the Red Deer Cave People but now researchers don’t think they are. They are now treating these finds as an archaic people separate from the Red Deer Cave People (also known as the Maludong after the cave in which they were found). Those specimens found at Longlin Cave are thought to be hybrids and the evidence appears fairly strong that they were. But the Red Deer Cave People? They don’t fit the hybrid model.
One possibility is that archaic humans were still around in SW China during the time that archaic human species were interbreeding with more modern type humans. The archaic features of the Red Deer Cave People may be due to their living in isolation or the traits might even be due to genetic drift or natural selection.
As a point of note, the Maludong Cave is located in SW China about 6 km from the town of Mengzi which is near China’s border with Vietnam.
When researchers examined a thigh bone from the Maludong Cave they discovered it resembled those of Homo erectus or Homo habilis. It is thought that these two species lived around 1.5 mya in Africa. Researchers have estimated that the body mass of the Red Deer Cave People was about 50 kilograms (about 110 lbs). This would mean that these people were smaller than the average pre-modern and Ice Age human hunter-gatherers.
The question when it comes to the Red Deer Cave People or Maludong People is just how did they survive up until recently in SW China? The region where Maludong Cave is a complex climate of high mountains, large rivers, and rift lakes. It sits on the edge of the tropical SE Asia and this is a place where many species of plants and animals found are ancient.
Researchers do not deny that their finds are controversial because some scholars cannot accept that such archaic looking bones as those of the Red Deer Cave People are so young. What’s new? And they really cannot accept the location where these bones were found NOT in Africa but in East Asia! Let us not, however, forget the discovery of Homo floresiensis (the Hobbit) a decade ago and these ancient humans look remarkably like a lot of Australopithecus remains! Yet most anthropologists and archaeologists have now accepted “the Hobbit” as a distinct and new species of ancient human ancestor.
It’s interesting to note that Russian researchers working at the Denisova Cave in Siberia have found remains of Neanderthals, Denisovans, modern humans, and Homo erectus all in the same layer of strata. This strongly suggests these species co-existed!! If true then it should be no surprise that modern humans co-existed with the Red Deer Cave People in China. And, when you throw in the “Hobbit” it makes such a notion even LESS surprising. I really DO NOT think that human species evolved into higher species all at the same time in every location. In fact, I think the truth is that there were several species of ancient human ancestors co-existing in EVERY location!
Most of what we know about human evolution comes from evidence found in Europe and some parts of Africa like the Rift Valley and South Africa. What is beginning to be realized is that these locations may NOT represent the prime models for use in interpreting the human fossil record in Eastern Asia.
In fact, we’ve not even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to ancient human ancestors in East Asia. What we are finding there, in my opinion, only adds further support to the Multi-regional theory of human evolution and does NOT support the popular Out of Africa theory at all. No doubt human evolution was happening in Africa BUT it appears that it was also happening in East Asia and the “odd” thing is that the evolution happening in East Asia is much more RECENT than that found in Africa! In my mind that is nothing short of FANTASTIC!!