Mysterious Dark-Skinned Stone Age People Found

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An artist's reconstruction of a member of the newly found Red Deer Cave People.
Peter Schouten

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- Fossils from two China caves have revealed a previously unknown Stone Age people.

- The mysterious humans, called the Red Deer Cave people, had a mix of primitive and modern features.

- The Red Deer Cave people may represent a new hominid species.

A newly found Stone Age people featured darker skin, an unusual mix of primitive and modern features and had a strong taste for venison.

Remains of possibly four individuals of the so-called "Red Deer Cave People" were unearthed in southwest China and may represent a new species of human.

The fossils from two caves, date to just 14,500 to 11,500 years ago. Until now, no hominid remains younger than 100,000 years old have been found in mainland East Asia resembling any other species than our own.

"We have discovered a new population of prehistoric humans whose skulls are an unusual mosaic of primitive, modern and unique features -- like nothing we've seen before," said Darren Curnoe, associate professor in the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales and lead author of a study about the find in the journal PLoS One.

"They have rounded brain cases with prominent brow ridges, flat but short faces with a broad nose, jutting jaws that lack a human chin, their brains are moderate in size with modern-looking frontal lobes but primitive short parietal lobes, and they have large molar teeth," added Curnoe .

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Since the prehistoric humans lived in areas with a lot of sunlight and ultraviolet radiation, they were likely dark-skinned.

Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Curnoe and their colleagues studied the fossils, which represent the remains of at least three individuals.

For now, the mysterious humans are being called the "Red Deer Cave people," since one of the caves where they were found is Maludong (meaning Red Deer Cave) and these individuals loved that animal.

"They clearly had a taste for venison, with evidence they hunted and cooked these large deer in the cave," Curnoe explained.

These people may represent an entirely new evolutionary line on the human family tree.

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