The skull, originally unearthed in 1979 in the Guangxi Province of China, has only now been fully analysed (talk about procrastination, right?). It turns out that it has thick bones, extremely prominent brow ridges, a very short, flat face, and also lacks our typically human chin. "In short, it is anatomically unique among all members of the human evolutionary tree," explains researcher Darren Curnoe to New Scientist.
What's more, despite its huge differences, in many ways the new species acted like other humans. There's evidence they cooked large deer in caves, for instance, which clearly separates them from apes, a finding reported in the research which appears in PLoS One.
The finer details of how the new species fits in to our family tree are a little fuzzy. One theory is that they were a new evolutionary line that evolved concurrently with our species, just like Neanderthals did. Another suggests that they could have been descendants of the Denisovan people who inhabbited Siberia. DNA testing might help solve the problem — and help work out just how closely related we really are. [PLoS One and New Scientist]
Image: Darren Curnoe