Red Deer Cave People 马鹿洞人 (蒙自人): Unknown Humans Discovered in China


In 2012 (following the official publication of an academic paper upon the subject), Western media started to report about an unknown species of human that had been discovered in the Red Deer Caves of South-Western China (Yunnan province). Chinese language sources state that initial archaeological finds of this nature began as far back as 1979 (with a single thigh-bone), but that a serious Chinese-Western combined academic study of the area concerned, did not began until 2008, when more bone-evidence was unearthed. This type of unusual human appears to possess the physical characteristics of a Homo Erectus (which went extinct about 70,000 years ago), AND Homo Sapien – or ‘modern humans’ – which replaced Homo Erectus. Professor Ji Xueping also stated that one thigh-bone had characteristics of Homo Erectus and Homo Habilis – which leads to the question as to why was it that so many different human species appeared to have shared (either together or separately) this particular cave space?


These previously unknown people (named after the cave and area of Yunnan province they were discovered within), were accomplished hunters that killed and cooked deer, made weapons, and probably could speak, but despite living at the end of the last Ice Age (between 14,500 – 11,500 years ago), their bodies possessed an hitherto undocumented  mixture of ancient and modern physical characteristics, usually not found together. This find suggests that a form of ancient humans lived much nearer the time of modern humans, than had previously been thought.


Current thinking suggests that all ancient humans died-out around 40,000 years ago – when modern humans spread and became dominant, but this find suggests that at least one branch of ancient humans lived side by side with modern humans – with the caveat that Red Cave Deer people do not appear to have inter-mixed with modern humans (unlike Neanderthals), and as a consequence, their distinctive DNA is not found in modern human populations. However, the Chinese language Wikipedia page suggests that this find might well have as of yet unknown implications for the development of the ‘Asian Race’, but does not elaborate.


Although Western scientists are speculating that this could be a ‘new’ species of human, Professor Ji Xueping advises caution. He states that there is not yet enough evidence to suggest such a conclusion, and states that these people could be demonstrative of late Homo Erectus as the species transitioned into Homo Sapiens, or of early Homo Sapiens that had just evolved away from Homo Erectus. Whatever the case, and despite the initial evidence that different human species possibly met and mixed in this cave, there is evidence of modern behaviours such as burial, the use of pigments (for painting), and the presence of artificial drill holes, amongst other examples. What can be said at this time is that these remains represent the oldest ‘ancient’ human presence in relatively recent historical times. Did these people migrate from Africa? Western scientists say ‘yes’, but Chinese scholars state that this question cannot yet be answered due to lack of supporting evidence. Certainly the ancient characteristics found in these people are similar in many ways to known populations that originated in Africa, but evidence suggests that a simple model of linear evolution may not be sufficient to explain the over-all complexity of human evolution. For instance, the Denisovan human species found in Siberia, has been proven to have shared living space 30,000 years ago with Neanderthals and modern humans. This evidence is augmented by some research that suggests that the Hobbit has evolved directly from the Java Man.  All of this suggests that human development is not as straightforward as simplistic models of linear evolution might suggest, but involves a much more complex basis, as yet not fully understood or defined. 

English Language Reference:

Chinese Language References:马鹿洞人


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