A fossil human jawbone found in waters off Taiwan indicates the existence of a new type of primitive man that lived at least 10,000 years ago, an international team said Tuesday in Nature Communications, an online British science journal.
The team believes the finding has highlighted the fourth type of ancient Asian hominid.
The others were “Java Man,” which belonged to the species Homo erectus and was first discovered on Java in 1891; “Peking Man,” a subspecies of Homo erectus that was first discovered near Beijing in 1923; and “Flores Man,” a human subspecies named Homo floresiensis that was discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores and may have survived until 12,000 years ago.
Although none of the four are ancestors of modern humans, the findings suggest the survival of multiple evolutionary lineages among archaic humans in Asia, the team said.
The new fossil’s age is likely to be 10,000 to 190,000 years old, the researchers said. If so, it overlapped with modern humans, who arrived 50,000 to 40,000 years ago, and Flores Man, nicknamed the “Hobbit.”
The team named the new type of primitive man as the “Penghu” people because the fossil was originally dredged by fishing net in waters near the Penghu Islands, which are believed to have been part of the Asian mainland in the past.
The fossil is the right side of a lower jaw with large molars in place. The jawbone is thick and the teeth are worn but strong. The team was not able to identify the sex, age or size of the body of the hominid.
The team judged that the fossil belonged to a type of primitive people that had no links with Peking Man or Java Man. It is similar to a fossil from Hexian, China, that is believed to date from 150,000 to 400,000 years ago and also may point to a fourth group of ancient Asian hominids.
A smaller jaw and teeth are said to be a sign of evolution, but the Penghu jaw and teeth were tougher than those of Java Man and Peking Man, which existed hundreds of thousands of years earlier.
The Penghu fossil is believed to be younger than 450,000 years ago, when the area was part of the mainland during the ice age. By comparing trace elements in the fossil with those in animal fossils located nearby, the team found the Penghu fossil is likely to date back to between 10,000 and 190,000 years ago.
The fossil was initially owned by a Taiwanese before a Kyoto University researcher in 2009 noticed from a photo that it is a human fossil, leading to the start of a more detailed study.
The international team involved members of Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science.
Yousuke Kaifu, a researcher at the museum, said that although Penghu Man could represent a fourth group of Homo erectus in Asia, the team would have to recover a cranial bone of Penghu Man to confirm this.