A possible new variety of human has been discovered in a fossil found near Taiwan. The fossil, marked by large teeth and found on a seabed, might even represent a new species of human ancestor.
Paleontologists believe this new finding could represent one of many varieties of humans that roamed Asia before the arrival of modern humans roughly 40,000 years ago.
Hominins, the group of human relatives that include a range of species that evolved after the genetic split with chimpanzees, were diverse in the region long ago. Among the creatures which have been found in Asia are members of Homo erectus, as well as Neanderthals, which are the most similar extinct predecessor to our own species. Homo floresiensis, a type of hominin first discovered in 2003, walked the lands of Indonesia, and fossils of Denisovans have also been found in the region.
"Then modern humans dispersed into this region around 50,000 to 40,000 years ago and came across a diverse group of hominins. This is a very different, complex and exciting story compared to what I was taught in school," Yousuke Kaifu, a paleoanthropologist from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Japan, said.
Analysis of the fossil revealed the creature likely lived between 10,000 and 190,000 years in the past. At this time, most early humans and similar primates were developing smaller teeth over the course of many generations. The large structures within the jaw of the fossils give the creature a primitive look to the paleontologists who have studied the artifact.
A complete right jaw of the ancient creature was found after the fossil was dredged up by a fishing net, from between 200 and 400 feet beneath the water, and more than 15 miles offshore. The fisherman who discovered the fossil sold the relic to a local antique shop. After purchase, the item was donated to the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Taiwan. Penghu Channel, where the object was resting, was once dry land during the latest ice age, when sea levels were lower than they are in the modern age.
The Penghu 1 fossil appears to have some similarities to fossils discovered from 400,000 years ago. Those artifacts were found in southern China, almost 600 miles away from Penghu Channel.
Researchers will need to carry out additional research on the fossil to determine if the creature that formed the artifact represents a new species of human relative.
Discovery and analysis of the new early human fossil was detailed in the journal Nature Communications.