Scientists are attempting to reconstruct the ancient world and identify four more human species that coexisted with current humans.
Following the discovery of new human species and stunning evidence of complex behavior, recent archaeological finds are redefining the tale of human origins.
Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred with contemporary humans, according to scientists. According to new DNA evidence, the Denisovans were a vast population that thrived across much of Asia for tens of thousands of years.
Denisovan or Denisova hominin is a type of extinct human in the genus Homo. Unlike Neanderthals and modern humans, Denisovans had exceptionally huge and unique teeth.
The ‘hobbits’ unearthed in Indonesia and the Red Deer Cave people from south-west China are two more archaic human species said to have existed at the same period.
“It’s innovative and mind-blowing stuff.” “It’s rapidly rewriting the narrative of the human evolutionary story,” says Darren Curnoe, Associate Professor of biological anthropology and archaeology at the University of New South Wales.
Associate Professor Curnoe led the team that uncovered the Red Deer People’s remains.
While they look to be more primitive human forebears from 2 million years ago, their bones are only 13,000 years old.
Elen Feuerriegel, an Australian PhD student, was part of a team of expert cavers and archaeologists – the so-called underground astronauts – who discovered a new human species, Homo naledi, in southern Africa last year.
The Hobbit, as imagined by an artist, has a limited intellect yet is capable of using stone tools. One of the major unanswered concerns is how they got to Flores.
She told ABC’s Lateline that she made the finding by shimmying down a 12-metre-long shaft without any safety equipment.
“It was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences I’ve had in my life.”
It is now thought that modern humans, or Homo sapiens, initially appeared in Africa around 200,000 years ago and spread around the globe in successive waves, first in Asia and then as far south as Australia before arriving in Europe around 40,000 years ago.
According to Associate Professor Curnoe, as new archaeological expeditions focus on Asia, additional species are expected to be identified.
“Asia has been overlooked by archaeologists, but it’s an evolutionary hotspot,” he says.
All of these new discoveries, paired with new technologies of recovering ancient DNA, are questioning long-held views about what it means to be human. We may need to let go of the notion that Homo sapiens are inherently brighter and more complex than other human species.
Modern discoveries show that pre-human creatures utilized stone tools 3 million years ago, and that early humans, such as Homo erectus, may have carved engravings and engaged in some type of burial practice more than 400,000 years ago.
The brains of Neanderthals were the same size, if not somewhat larger, than those of modern humans.
A reconstruction of the face of a young Neanderthal woman who lived in France some 35,000 years ago. AFP photo
According to evidence, they employed fire and advanced hunting weapons, buried their dead, wore jewelry, and cared for the sick and aged.
“Some of this material, as well as its interpretation, is contentious and is still being discussed.” But I believe there is enough fresh evidence to dispel the notion that we were superior, that we were more intellectual or knowledgeable than other human species.
There could be more unintentional reasons why we are still here and they are not, because they have all left us alone. It’s possible that we made greater use of the DNA they left us. “We may have had the mongrel advantage, which allowed us to live and prosper,” Professor Curnoe speculates.
Genetic testing has revealed that non-Africans had up to 4% Neanderthal DNA, whereas Indigenous Australians and Papua New Guineans have up to 6% Denisovan DNA.
It is thought that Neanderthals passed down red hair and enhanced immunity.
The Denisovans are also thought to have passed on improved immunity as well as the gene found in Tibetans for surviving at high elevations.
Much more research is needed before we can understand more about our predecessors and other species that coexisted with humans, but recent discoveries in the subject are just as contentious as they are fascinating to some.