Not quite human, not quite Neanderthal, but something else. That’s what scientists who have discovered fossilized teeth in China are calling it. The teeth likely belonged to hybrids of known populations of hominids, or to a whole new species of human that we simply never knew of.
Homo neanderthalensis lived in Europe and western Asia, while Homo sapiens lived in Africa. A mysterious group of extinct human relatives called Denisovans were present in Siberia, and Homo floresiensis lived in Indonesia. These teeth were recovered from an early Late Pleistocene site in Northern China.
“Teeth are like ‘landscapes in miniature,’” María Martinón-Torres of CENIEH, the author of the study tells the BBC. “Each of those slopes, grooves, valleys define a pattern or combination of features that can be distinctive of a population.”
Their findings effectively indicate the existence of a population in China that is remarkably similar to both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, but are of an “unclear taxonomic status.” They could have been a result of interbreeding between different Homo species, or maybe a lineage all of its own.
“What we have seen is an unknown group for us,” Martinón-Torres says. But she cautions: “We cannot go further to say it’s a new species because we need to compare it to other things.”