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Details of the discovery are published in the scientific journal PLo S ONE.
Archeological evidence dates these prehistoric hunters and gatherers to 14,500 to 11,500 years ago, indicating that for a sliver of time in East Asia, the Red Deer Cave people may have shared the landscape with modern-looking people who displayed the beginnings of farming.
Newly identified partial skeletons of "mysterious humans" excavated at two caves in southwest China display an unique mix of primitive and modern anatomical features, scientists say. They look very different to all modern humans, whether alive today or in Africa 150,000 years ago," said evolutionary biologist Darren Curnoe, the lead author of the study, from the University of New South Wales in Australia.
The fossils found at excavation sites in Longlin Cave, in Guangxi Province, and the Maludong Cave, in Yunnan Province, indicate that the stone-aged people had short, flat faces and lacked a modern chin.
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The team of Australian and Chinese researchers remains cautiously optimistic when it comes to classifying what they have unearthed.
"The evidence is quite fairly balanced at the moment.
It's weighted towards the idea that the Red Deer Cave people might represent a new population, possibly a new species," Curnoe said.
Initial DNA testing conducted on the fossils did not show evidence of human DNA, but Curnoe and his team will push forward.
"If we are successful in extracting DNA, it will give us a really accurate understanding of precisely who these people are and where they might fit in the human evolutionary tree," he said.