Fossil found by fisherman may reveal new type of ancient human

Story highlights

  • A fossilized human jawbone may reveal a new kind of prehistoric man
  • It suggests a fourth type of ancient human who lived in Asia long before Homo sapiens
  • Researchers say the jawbone, which has large molars, could be nearly 200,000 years old

(CNN)A fossilized human jawbone discovered by a Taiwanese fisherman, sold to an antique shop, then recovered by researchers may reveal a new kind of prehistoric man.

The unlikely find could be nearly 200,000 years old and suggests a fourth type of ancient human who lived in Asia long before Homo sapiens ever came to be.
    Three other known archaic Asian hominids include Homo erectus, found in Java and China; the shorter Homo floresiensis from Indonesia; and Neanderthals in the Russian Altai mountains.
    Scientists believe that human jaws and teeth became smaller as they evolved. But unlike other fossils of the time, the newly discovered jawbone is thick with large molars, suggesting the existence of a different group.
    The new jawbone (center) is thicker than those of other ancient human fossils found in Java (left) and Peking (right).
    "The new Taiwan mandible is clearly different than the known Homo erectus populations from northern China and Java, and likely represents a group that has been unrecognized so far," researcher Dr. Yousuke Kaifu told CNN. "It's only one piece, but the significance is huge."
    Researchers from Taiwan and Japan named the ancient human "Penghu 1," after the Penghu Channel where the fossil was found.
    The team spent five years analyzing the bone, which was difficult to date because it had been recovered from the sea.
    "The findings reminded me that our knowledge is always very limited, and we have very limited fossil records," said Kaifu. "That's a great lesson for me."