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22 August 2016
Was China the cradle of modern man, not Africa?

Back in 1929, in caves just outside the Chinese capital of Beijing, an amazing discovery was made of a 500,000 year old skull, which was rapidly nicknamed Peking Man (the name for Beijing in the early 20th. Century). At that time experts believed that the discovery meant that modern humanity had first evolved in the Far East. More recent discoveries had, however, subsequently swung opinion to the evolutionary chain having its origins in Africa, which is the current consensus.
     The strength and depth of evidence pointing to the source being African was not even dented with the re-aging of Peking Man, using modern techniques, to over 780,000 years old. Despite this the mystery surrounding Peking Man and his place in modern evolution has puzzled and challenged Chinese palaeontologists and the discovery across eastern China of more early hominids in the intervening years, with ages varying from 80,000 to 1,700,000 years old, has only added to the confusion and contradictory claims.
     There has even been some unsubstantiated claims by Western researchers that their Chinese counterparts have been manipulating data to favour evolutionary origins in China and nor Africa. These claims have been strongly rebuffed by the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology & Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) (Beijing), leading palaeontologist, Wu Xinzhi, who is quoted as saying: "This has nothing to do with nationalism. It's all about the evidence - the transitional fossils and archaeological artefacts. Everything points to continuous evolution in China from Homo Erectus to modern man".
     Despite these claims and counter-claims the wealth of evidence now emerging from China is fascinating and exciting researchers around the world and will continue to do so as more and more evidence is uncovered. Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist from Oxford University (UK) is convinced there is more to come "The centre of gravity is shifting eastwards," he says.

Edited from PhysOrg (15 July 2016)

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