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10 Other Human Species Which Could Have Been With Us Today

20/04/2021

Homo sapiens: 300,000 years old

Human beings are an orphan race. Even with all the populations present on the globe, the genetic diversity is minimal but it hasn’t always been like this. Long ago and actualy not very long ago, different species of human beings shared this planet together. Some of them could have made it to modern times. It is interesting to think that if they were here with us, would we have treated them as equals or inferiors? It is also frightening that we could be partly responsible for their disappearance in certain cases (human beings not having an excellent interspecies or intraspecies relations record). Let's meet those beings belonging to our genus (Homo) and who could have roamed the planet with us up to the present day, had they been a bit more fortunate.

“What is not written does not exist. ”

1. Homo Naledi

First on our list is Homo naledi, discovered in South Africa in 2013 in the Rising Star Cave in the province of Gauteng. Nominally dated around 1.8 million years before our era, H. naledi is in the Homo genus and figures on our list due to the recent dating in 2017 of partially-fossilized bones. The mind-blowing date that this species might have still roamed the world is around 300,000 or 200,000 years ago. This would make this genre contemporary to early Homo sapiens and other distinctive cousins like Homo ergaster or Homo erectus. However, the facial features of H. naledi are a mix of simian and human characteristics.

Despite the uncanny valley semblance and according to some experts, H. naledi shares one trait with modern humans: it seems that the species deliberately buried the bodies of their dead in underground chambers of caves. This is a very debatable assertion and other hypotheses have been proposed with none giving a definite answer. If H. naledi really disposed of their dead in that fashion, they will share that trait with us and H. neanderthalensis, which is an aspect of human society that makes us human. H. naledi was physically closer in build to Australopithecus but also shared some features with more evolved hominids and early humans. Though he is not a direct ancestor of H. sapiens, he is definitively a cousin who could have lived among us today.

2. Homo heidelbergensis

Homo heidelbergensis - also known as H. rhodesiensis is thought to have inhabited the world during a period extending from 800,000 to 200,000 years ago; however, some recent discoveries tend towards a date as early as 1 million years ago. This particular chronology would have made him the contemporary of other hominids like Homo ergaster of whom he is thought to be a descendant. Still, chronologically speaking he would have shared the planet with Homo erectus and early Homo sapiens.

H. heidelbergensis was also a tool user, though these were more primitive than advanced hominids’ tools, but he was more intelligent than H. erectus. Evidence that he buried his dead will make him the first Homo species to do so if the suspicion of H. naledi doing the same is not confirmed. H. heidelbergensis also inhabited different niches, migrating to Southern Europe where his remains were found, notably in Spain (they migrated as far as Asia). He is the direct ancestor of Denisovans, H. neanderthalensis and modern humans, one of the reasons that would have made him less uncanny to us if he was still around. Slightly shorter than Neanderthals with an average height of 1.75 m for the males and a larger brain of 1250 cm3, H. Heidelbergensis was armed to ensure the survival of the species during a long time span. If he had been with us now, it would have been difficult to differentiate him in a crowd from us.

3. Homo erectus

Arguably the most successful of the hominids as the early remains are dated as early as 1.9–1.8 million years and the species persisted until some 50,000 years ago. A great adventurer, H. erectus migrated as far as Java after having left the African cradle. It is thought that H. erectus was capable of hunting such an adversary as the giant vegetarian ape Gigantopithecus, the closest thing that could have resembled King Kong. A quite notable feat when we judge his main physical characteristics: H. erectus was 1m 79 at full height. The main evidence proving that he may have been capable of seafaring is the fact that remains of his descendants have been found on the island of Flores, which even during low sea level periods involves crossing to by sea (no land bridge has been discovered).

H. erectus still had primitive features which would have made him distinctive in a modern world and he would have certainly struggled to have a status as a capable hominid cousin. It must be noted that he is still the species of Homo that has successfully survived for the longest time period.

4. Denisovans or Denisovan hominins or Homo denisova

Denisovans, whose taxonomic placement is still under debate, were discovered in 2010 in Russia, which added another cousin to our list. They seem to be more closely related to Neanderthals than to Homo sapiens but a large part of the human population still carries their genes, in fact, 3% to 5% of the DNA of Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians carry their genes. The findings in Siberia seem to corroborate that this third descendant of H. Heidelbergensis was still on the scene 300,000 years ago and the finger bone of a female found in the Denisova Cave dates 41,000 years ago. Denisovans were most probably more robust than H. sapiens and would have shared more characteristics with Neanderthals though this is difficult to verify due to the rarity of the fossils uncovered so far (a finger bone and a molar). Thanks to the well-preserved DNA of the samples, it has been proven that interbreeding was a common occurrence between the linage of those hominids (17% of the genome of Neanderthals is Denisovan) which opens another interesting question, what will have been the same said relation in a modern world? Denisovans were still present on the globe 20,000 years ago, a touch more and he would have made it into our epoch.

5. Homo neanderthalensis

This is one of the most famous but there are still debates as to whether it is a species of its own or a sub species of modern H. sapiens from which it evolved separately over more than 400,000 years ago in Europe while our relatives, modern humans, were taking Africa by storm. It will certainly not astonish you that there are still debates as to whether it was burying its dead like us, but most scientists accept that with its brain capacities larger than the one of H. sapiens ,it was quite sophisticated and could have successfully adapted to its environment. Quite common among fossil records, there are more than 400 bones of Neanderthals which have been unearthed so far, explaining the huge documentation on the subject. This cousin differs from us by his more robust build and different features of the cranium.

Despite the fact that they were shorter than modern human beings, they were most probably stronger with powerful arms and hands that were needed to survive their ice age environment. Like Denisovans, we would have felt less uncanny in the presence of this Homo genus. However although interbreeding has been proven, and the fact that we shared the Pleistocene period, only one species made it to our period. Many theories have tried to explain the disappearance of Neanderthals from the scene. Some argue that the population was already dwindling when he encountered H. sapiens, others say that H. sapiens carried with him exotic diseases that Neanderthals were unable to fight.

Their decline started 40,000 years ago when H. sapiens came out of Africa with new technology and weaponry. If it is proven that we physically challenged them and drove them to extinction, it would mean maybe, sadly, we have only ourselves to blame for being an orphan race today.

6. Homo antecessor

Okay I see already the raised eyebrows of those versed in paleontology. With fossils dated at the closest 800,000 years ago, Homo antecessor would not have met H. sapiens whether archaic or modern. However, the debate concerning, his classification makes him a case apart. Some anthropologists have argued (for example Richard Klein) that it was a totally independent species on its own, descending from Homo ergaster, another long lost cousin. Others think that it could be a sub or the same species as H. heidelbergensis. The main problem with H. antecessor is that the fossils found come from young subjects who can look very different in adult age and even though those fossils are far from being complete, anthropologists can base their main conclusions on only a handful of bones, notably 14 fragments of bones and lower jaw bones.

Before the debate is finally over, scientists have to find a more complete adult skull and other body parts. So, for the moment, you can decide if our H. antecessor was H. Heidelbergensis. In which case, he would have been a potent candidate for our list. Interesting also to note that this species would have indulged itself in cannibalism according to certain findings in Atapuerca, Spain. Numerous examples showed cuts where the flesh had been flensed from the bones, which indicates that H. antecessor may have practiced cannibalism.

7. Homo rhodesiensis

H. rhodesiensis emerged 300,000 and 125,000 years ago. Discovered in what was then Northern Rhodesia (modern day Zambia). The classification is debatable, classified as H. rhodesiensis, an archaic human, or a subspecies of H. heidelbergensis. The facial characteristics are closer to Neanderthals but the brain capacity was somewhere between that of advanced Homo sapiens and that of Neanderthals. H. rhodesiensis would have shared the same geographical and chronological niche of other archaic humans.

8. Homo sapiens idaltu

Homo sapiens idaltu, also categorized as archaic human because the structure of the anatomy of the skull does not match that of modern humans, differed in the sense that they were found in Herto Bouri, Ethiopia and dated to around 160000 years ago. Their skulls didn’t exactly match those of people alive today—they were longer and minimally larger with more pronounced brow ridges. Although they do not have a fully modern anatomy, they were on their way to becoming fully human.

9. Homo floresiensis

Initially thought to have existed till only 12,500 years ago, Homo floresiensis could easily be with us today even though changes in recent dating technology have pushed this date to more than 50,000 years ago. The discovery of a tiny race of the genus Homo on the island of Flores, H. floresiensis made a tremendous noise in the worlds of paleontology and anthropology. H. floresiensis was nicknamed the “hobbit” due to his tiny size and was in fact subject to what is defined as insular dwarfism. Obviously, the debate raged when the hobbit popped out like a ghost from the fossil records, and as usual classification of our cousin appeared problematic.

However, it now seems that H. floresiensis is a descendant of H. erectus and was living on the northern part of Java and Flores. If he was still here today, we would certainly have opened a new chapter of the famous uncanny valley. With traits much more resembling those of H. erectus than those of modern humans, and a height of 1.1 m, H. floresiensis had a small cranium capacity of only 380 cm3, which is half the size of his ancestor Homo erectus. However, that did not prevent him developing a technology that he used to hunt an exotic species of Stegodon dwarf elephants. We tend to conclude that the hobbit was also using fire.

The debate is far from being settled and H. Sapiens most probably did not meet this survivor of the past when he set foot on the island of Flores some 50,000 years ago. But strangely, legends regarding this cousin corresponding to the description of a hobbit flourish in the oral culture of the natives of Flores where they named the creature EbuGogo. There is even a very slight chance that this controversial species of the homo genus could still survive deep in the tropical forests of Indonesia.

10. Red Deer Cave People.

Again a bone of contention regarding this fossil discovered in 2012: scientists do not really know if the Red Deer cave people were a species on their own. The fossils show traits associated to archaic and modern humans and some have speculated that it could be a hybrid of Denisovans and modern humans or even closely related to pre-humans like H. habilis and H. erectus as studies carried out on fossilized femurs would indicate. If it is confirmed that those cave dwellers were indeed a distinct species, it will make them the longest hominid living alongside H. sapiens, and long after both Neanderthals and Floresiensis would have left the party (if you can call it that).

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