Four Stone Age people found in caves in China could be a entirely new species of humanoid - and the discovery 'opens a new chapter' in the history of evolution, say archaeologists.
The fossils, found in two caves, belong to a previously unknown Stone Age people and have a 'highly unusual' mixture of ancient and modern features.
Named the 'Red Deer people' because of the animals they hunted and dating from between 14,500 to 11,500 years ago, they are the youngest humanoid fossils to be found in Asia.
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The 'Red Deer' discovery has ‘startling implications for the early peopling of Asia’, said Professor Curnoe, of the University of New South Wales.
They would have shared the land with modern looking humans at a time when China's earliest farming culture was beginning, he said.
Writing in journal PLoS One, Prof Curnoe explained: ‘These new fossils might be of a previously unknown species, one that survived until the very end of the Ice Age around 11,000 years ago.
He said: ‘The discovery of the red-deer people opens the next chapter in the human evolutionary story - the Asian chapter - and it's a story that's just beginning to be told.’
‘Alternatively, they might represent a very early and previously unknown migration of modern humans out of Africa, a population who may not have contributed genetically to living people.’
Three sets of remains were found at Maludong - Red Deer Cave' - in the Yunnan province in 1989. They were unstudied until 2008.