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Scientists Discover New Unknown Human Species?

Jan 28, 2015 04:14 PM EST

Based on new fossil evidence, scientists may have discovered a previously unknown human species from Asia that lived as recently as 10,000 years ago, changing prior views of our human ancestry.

The fossil, dubbed Penghu 1, was found from the seafloor near Taiwan, and suggests that modern humans (Homo sapiens) weren't the only species from our genus roaming Europe and Asia between 200,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Modern humans officially arrived on the scene 40,000 years ago, according to Live Science, but before that several extinct human lineages were around. There were the famous Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo floresiensis (hobbit-like humans), who lived in Europe and Asia within the same time frame. These species all are categorized as hominins, or groups consisting of humans and all their relatives once we split from apes.

Now it appears that one more group can be added to the mix. Described in the journal Nature Communications, Penghu 1 is a near complete right side of a lower jaw with large teeth supposedly belonging to a primitive human, dating back between 10,000 and 190,000 years ago.

It was dredged up by fishermen from about 200 to 400 feet (60-120 meters) below the surface of the Penghu Channel in Taiwan, and has since been donated to the nation's National Museum of Natural Sciences for further study.

Lead author Chun-Hsiang Chang and his colleagues from The University of Tokyo say that according to the fossil jaw's "short and wide" shape and primitive-looking teeth, it has certain features similar to Homo heidelbergensis, as well as Homo erectus and even Denisovans.

While in theory it could represent a new unknown human species, at this point in time it's hard to say with certainty.

"This enigmatic fossil is difficult to classify," Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum told Discovery News, "but it highlights the growing and not unexpected evidence of human diversity in the Far East, with the apparent coexistence of different lineages in the region prior to, and perhaps even contemporary with, the arrival of modern humans."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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