| 9 December 2015
Earliest modern humans in Southern China
Dr Liu Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his international team have announced the discovery of human teeth between 80,000 and 120,000 years old from the newly excavated Fuyan Cave in Daoxian, southern China - by far the earliest evidence of fully modern humans outside Africa.
The cave is part of a large system of several connected and stacked caves, covering an area of more than 3,000 square metres. Excavations have yielded 47 human teeth and abundant mammalian fossils.
The hominin and most of the animal elements consist exclusively of teeth. The mammalian fossils are typical of Late Pleistocene in southern China - 38 species including 5 extinct large mammals. The 47 human teeth came from at least 13 individuals.
The Daoxian teeth are generally smaller than other Late Pleistocene specimens from Africa and Asia, and closer to European Late Pleistocene samples and contemporary modern humans.
"Our data fill a chronological and geographical gap that is relevant for understanding when Homo sapiens first appeared in southern Asia. The Daoxian teeth also support the hypothesis that during the same period, southern China was inhabited by more derived populations than central and northern China. This evidence is important for the study of dispersal routes of modern humans", says Liu Wu.
Although fully modern humans were already present in southern China at least as early as 80,000 years ago, there is no evidence that they entered Europe before 45,000 years ago.
"Our species made it to southern China tens of thousands of years before colonising Europe perhaps because of the entrenched presence of our hardy cousins, the Neanderthals, in Europe and the harsh, cold European climate", said Martinon-Torres of University College London, co-lead author of the study.
"The Daoxian teeth place our species in southern China 30,000 to 70,000 years earlier than in the eastern Mediterranean or Europe", says Liu Wu, "We hope our Daoxian human fossil discovery will make people understand that East Asia is one of the key areas for the study of the origin and evolution of modern humans."
Edited from PhysOrg (25 November 2015)
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