The Red Deer Cave people are a species of archaic humans who have been found in two cave sites in Northern China. They share significant traits of their physiology with ancient humans, such as the Denisovans and Neanderthals. These traits include a prominent brow ridge, flat face, the lack of a chin, and a reduced brain size. The Red Deer Cave people were also smaller on average than modern humans, which is also the same as other archaic human species.
What’s unusual about this find is how old this species is, or rather, how young. Modern humans have been around roughly 200,000 years, as anatomically correct by the standards of today’s Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens has a larger brain, is taller, has a reduced brow, and smaller molars than other human species. The Red Deer Cave people, though, have been radio carbon dated to have existed just 14,000 to 11,000 years ago. This is much later than anyone would have expected humans with those archaic traits to have been living. 14,000 years ago, the Earth was in the midst of the Ice Age, and the Bering land bridge was still in existence. Humans had already crossed it into the Americas by then. The location of the Red Deer Cave discovered would have been frozen and near the large glaciers which surrounded Northern Eurasia and North America.
Some scientists have speculated that the Red Deer Cave people are a hybrid species between archaic humans and modern humans. Nearby to this site, some other human fossils were discovered that are different from the Red Deer Cave people’s, and supports the theory that the Red Deer Cave people themselves are not the hybrids. Rather, they are the archaic humans which modern humans formed a hybrid with, and the new species (which dates to just 10,000 years old) is the hybrid human species. This new species exhibits both archaic and modern traits and, while existing a lot later than we would have thought in the past, does seem to be proof of a mix of genetics between archaic and modern humans.
So how did a blast from the past like the Red Deer Cave people live so recently? The leading theory is that their isolation preserved them. Due to living so remotely and close to the giant ice sheets to the North, they wouldn’t have been part of larger human populations or centers of hominid activity. Like many species who are isolated from a larger population, they can stop evolving at the same pace as the other group that they were isolated from, and definitely take a different path in evolution that’s shaped by their unique environment and circumstances.
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