Biology Magazine

Part Human, Part Neanderthal Skulls Hints at Ancient Interbreeding

Posted on the 23 March 2017 by Reprieve @EvoAnth

The human family is far from a linear progression. It's a big messy bush, with loads of offshoots. Many of which came back together with a bit of interspecies love. Well known examples of such romantic partners include humans, Neanderthals, and the Denisovans. However, a new set of skulls from China show that this may be far more widespread than anticipated. These skulls reveal a possible case of ancient interbreeding in a long dead brach of the human family.

Ancient interbreeding? More like inter-boring!

The skulls in question come from the Lingjing site, in China. Specifically the Xuchang area, from which the skulls derive their names: Xuchang 1 and 2. The site itself has been excavated for several years, revealing dozens of archaeological artefacts spread across more than a hundred thousand years of prehistory. The include faunal remains and stone tools. But the real star of the show are the Xuchang skulls. They're notable for sharing features from many different branches of humanity.

  • The inner ear shares many similarities with Neanderthals, as does the back of their skulls.
  • Like modern humans, they have a more gracile skull than other hominins. This is most notable in their brow ridge (which they still have, unlike us). It's thinner and less robust than other hominins.
  • The skull is fairly low, similar to other non-Neanderthal hominins from this part of Eurasia.

This weird combination of features suggests that these fossils might be the result of ancient interbreeding. Recently in their genetic past, some of their ancestors had a bit of hanky panky with other hominins. Which is cool, as the Xuchang fossils would represent the most complete "hybrid" fossil we've ever found.

At the same time, that's kind of boring too. After all, we know that interbreeding between hominin species happened. There are tonnes of genetic evidence for it. Plus, we've already found fossils linked to it. Long time readers might remember the Italian jaw which shared both Neanderthal and human features. Or the fossils from Romania whose DNA shows they were interbreeding with Neanderthals very recently.

Travel yourself interesting

Things start to get a bit more interesting when one considers the date of these skulls. OSL dating of quartzite from the same strata as the skull places it at around 125,000 years old. This is notable for predating the successful migration of modern humans into the region!

Genetic evidence tells us modern Eurasians are descended from a group that arrived in the region ~50,000 years ago. However, this successful migration wasn't the first. Fossils of modern humans from around the world show some our species left Africa as early as 125,000 years ago. However, this first movement seems to have been unsuccessful, with these early migrants ultimately going extinct. These regions then seem to have been abandoned, until the successful migration that gave rise to modern Eurasians. But that wasn't until tens of thousands of years later.

Fossils from elsewhere in China also fit this pattern. There are a few modern humans from sometime between 80 - 100,000 years ago. But these populations vanish, until a new wave of migrants reaches the region around the time genetics says they did.

This has some interesting implications for this case of ancient interbreeding. If these new fossils from Xuchang do have a human influence, then that likely came from this earlier migration. They were the only ones around at the time that could have provided it. This would mean that interbreeding between modern humans and our relatives is even more ancient and widespread than we thought. Even these early populations were getting it on with the locals.

But I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising. After all, we did evolve from filthy monkey men.

References

Demeter F, Shackelford LL, Bacon AM, Duringer P, Westaway K, Sayavongkhamdy T, Braga J, Sichanthongtip P, Khamdalavong P, Ponche JL, Wang H, Lundstrom C, Patole-Edoumba E, & Karpoff AM (2012). Anatomically modern human in Southeast Asia (Laos) by 46 ka. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Li, Z.Y., Wu, X.J., Zhou, L.P., Liu, W., Gao, X., Nian, X.M. and Trinkaus, E., 2017. Late Pleistocene archaic human crania from Xuchang, China. Science, 355(6328), pp.969-972.

Liu, W., Martinón-Torres, M., Cai, Y.J., Xing, S., Tong, H.W., Pei, S.W., Sier, M.J., Wu, X.H., Edwards, R.L., Cheng, H. and Li, Y.Y., 2015. The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China. Nature.


You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Skinny Creamy Italian Vanilla Gelato / Fior Di Latte Gelato - Made with Minimal...

    Skinny Creamy Italian Vanilla Gelato Fior Latte Made with Minimal Sugar Cream

    version; Today, I will be sharing a fantastic gelato recipe!Is gelato the same as ice cream?Although gelato is the Italian word for ice cream, both are... Read more

    The 21 October 2018 by   Zoebakeforhappykids
    FOOD & DRINK, RECIPES
  • How To Make Your Boyfriend Give You Money Without Asking Him

    Money has always been a sensitive issue in a relationship. Women like it when their boyfriend pays for dinner, movie ticket, and other dating expenses. Read more

    The 21 October 2018 by   Naijapary
    SOCIETY, A-CLASSER
  • Discover the Nature and Beauty of the High Mountain Environments in the Valle...

    Discover Nature Beauty High Mountain Environments Valle d'Aosta.

    Aosta Valley is the smallest region in Italy; in its northwest, it is located between France and Switzerland. At its core are its majestic peaks (the region... Read more

    The 21 October 2018 by   Hugor
    DESTINATIONS
  • The Autumn 100 - My Ultra Comeback

    I thought I made pretty good time getting to the turnaround point. Now I was pleased it was downhill all the way to Goring, except there still seemed to be load... Read more

    The 21 October 2018 by   Jamesrichardadams
    FITNESS, OTHER SPORTS, SPORTS
  • When You Should Come In To Net

    When Should Come

    One of the main goals in doubles tennis is to take the net, as it decreases the likelihood of hitting the ball into the net and gives you better angles to put... Read more

    The 21 October 2018 by   Jen Campbell
  • …Root, Root, Root

    …Root, Root, Root

    As the end of October comes into view so too does the beginning of the 2018 World Series. This year sees the Boston Red Sox take on the LA Dodgers in a battle o... Read more

    The 21 October 2018 by   Zer
    SELF EXPRESSION
  • Loneliness Limited

    Loneliness Limited

    Is anyone here a fan of the writings of the American author Kurt Vonnegut? He was quite fashionable in the 1960s and early 1970s but I think his cachet is not... Read more

    The 21 October 2018 by   Ashleylister
    BOOKS, CREATIVITY, CULTURE, SELF EXPRESSION

Magazines