ENIGMA MAN: A Stone Age Mystery
With Enigma Man we follow the groundbreaking research of Aussie paleoanthropologist Darren Curnoe and his Chinese colleague, paleontologist Ji Xueping.
Their study of ancient human remains found in a remote cave in South-west China looks at the idea there may have been another species of human existing alongside our ancestors as recently as 11,000 – 14,000 years ago.
Dubbed the ‘‘Red Deer Cave people’’, these ancient people, or, more precisely, their remains – so similar, yet so physically different from us – are much, much younger than our Neanderthal relatives, posing some seriously interesting questions. Were they really another human species? And if so, what happened to them? Why did they die out? How did they live? And what were their interactions with our own early relatives?
These are indeed big questions, Curnoe says, and that’s what makes the search for answers so fascinating.
“The documentary is about the process of deciding: do we have a new species or not?” Curnoe, who is Associate Professor of evolutionary biology in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UNSW, explains.
“The fossils just don’t fit with the dominant view in science at the moment about who was around 11,000 years ago or 14,000 years ago, how they relate to us, and how we think of ourselves as humans in relation to nature.
“We tend to think of ourselves as special. So it raises some pretty deep and challenging questions.
“There are views, which I subscribe to, and quite a lot of other people do too, that there are at least 30 different species that are in the fossil record that would be relatives of ours in some sense – some may be ancestors, some may be side-branches that went extinct.
“The classic example is the Neanderthals – everyone has heard of them, even if you don’t know much about them. What we are proposing is that instead of the Neanderthals being the last of the other human-like creatures [before it was] just us, we are in fact saying, well, no, this other group survived until much more recently.”