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Jawbone found by fisherman may belong to unclassified human

The jawbone is the first evidence of ancient man uncovered in Taiwan.

By Brooks Hays
Penghu 1 was recovered from the seafloor off the coast of Taiwan. Photo by Y. Kaifu/Nature.
Penghu 1 was recovered from the seafloor off the coast of Taiwan. Photo by Y. Kaifu/Nature.

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- That ape begat early man and early man begat modern is relatively clear. But the confused evolutionary transition from early to modern man is littered with abandoned lineages, species and groups of early humans long extinct -- Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo erectus, Homo floresiensis.

That list of early human relatives may soon grow, thanks to a new fossil discovered off the coast of Taiwan. Researchers say the jawbone, scooped up off the ocean floor by the net of a local fisherman, could belong to an unidentified species of primitive human.

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Researchers say the fossil belonged to an early human who lived somewhere between 10,000 and 190,000 years ago. Because the jawbone is more robust than the H. erectus jawbones found in Java and Northern China, researchers have floated the possibility that the newly analyzed fossil belonged to an ancient hominin species that predates modern man's arrival in Asia.

Scientists say the fossil, dubbed Penghu 1, is similar to a 400,000-year-old jawbone discovered a few years ago in Southern China, roughly 600 miles north of Taiwan.

Still, researchers aren't prepared to make any definitive judgement as to the jawbone's place on the evolutionary tree of early man.

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"We need other skeletal parts to evaluate the degree of its uniqueness," study co-author Yousuke Kaifu, a paleoanthropologist at Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science, told LiveScience. "The question of species can be effectively discussed after those steps."

Still, the discovery is exciting. It's the first evidence of ancient man in Taiwan.

"The available evidence at least does not exclude the possibility that they survived until the appearance of Homo sapiens in the region, and it is tempting to speculate about their possible contact," Kaifu told Discovery News.

The study was published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

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