A fisherman who pulled in his nets 25 kilometers off the coast of Taiwan got a surprising catch: the lower jawbone of an ancient human. The bone (pictured)—dredged from a watery grave in the Penghu Channel—is robust and sports unusually large molars and premolars, suggesting that it once belonged to an archaic member of our genus Homo, according to a report published online today in Nature Communications. The Penghu jaw and teeth most closely resemble a partial skull of H. erectus from Longtan Cave in Hexian on the mainland of China, as well as earlier H. erectus fossils. Although it wasn’t possible to date the jawbone directly, it was found with an extinct species of hyena that suggests this archaic human was alive in the past 400,000 years and, most likely, in the past 200,000 years. If so, the find suggests that H. erectus persisted late in Asia, or that there were several other types of humans still alive at the time in this region. It might even be a member of the mysterious Denisovan people, a close relative of Neandertals known only from a finger bone and two teeth from Denisova Cave in Russia and its ancient DNA. But “if Penghu is indeed a long-awaited Denisovan jawbone, it looks more primitive than I would have expected,” says paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, who was not a co-author on the paper. And that question can only be answered if researchers can get DNA from Penghu.
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