September 9, 2013

Homo sapiens was in China before 100,000 years ago!

This finding consolidates the recent dating of African-like industries of India to c. 96,000 years ago, as well as other previous discoveries from mostly China, and, jointly, they totally out-date not just the ridiculous "60 Ka ago" mantra for the migration out-of-Africa (which we know is dated to c. 125,000 years ago in Arabia and Palestine) but also the previous estimates of c. 80,000 years ago for India (Petraglia 2007).

Guanjung Shen et al., Mass spectrometric U-series dating of Huanglong Cave in Hubei Province, central China: Evidence for early presence of modern humans in eastern Asia. Journal of Human Evolution, 2013. Freely accessible at the time of writing thisLINK [doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2013.05.002]


Most researchers believe that anatomically modern humans (AMH) first appeared in Africa 160-190 ka ago, and would not have reached eastern Asia until ∼50 ka ago. However, the credibility of these scenarios might have been compromised by a largely inaccurate and compressed chronological framework previously established for hominin fossils found in China. Recently there has been a growing body of evidence indicating the possible presence of AMH in eastern Asia ca. 100 ka ago or even earlier. Here we report high-precision mass spectrometric U-series dating of intercalated flowstone samples from Huanglong Cave, a recently discovered Late Pleistocene hominin site in northern Hubei Province, central China. Systematic excavations there have led to the in situ discovery of seven hominin teeth and dozens of stone and bone artifacts. The U-series dates on localized thin flowstone formations bracket the hominin specimens between 81 and 101 ka, currently the most narrow time span for all AMH beyond 45 ka in China, if the assignment of the hominin teeth to modern Homo sapiens holds. Alternatively this study provides further evidence for the early presence of an AMH morphology in China, through either independent evolution of local archaic populations or their assimilation with incoming AMH. Along with recent dating results for hominin samples from Homo erectus to AMH, a new extended and continuous timeline for Chinese hominin fossils is taking shape, which warrants a reconstruction of human evolution, especially the origins of modern humans in eastern Asia.

The range of dates for the teeth is ample but the oldest one is of 102.1 ± 0.9 Ka ago. Other dates are very close to this one: 99.5 ± 2.2, 99.3 ± 1.6, 96.8 ± 1.0, etc. (see table 1), so there can be little doubt about their accuracy. 

The Huanglong teeth (various views)
Now, how solidly can these teeth be considered to belong to the species Homo sapiens? Very solidly it seems:
The seven hominin teeth from Huanglong Cave have been assigned to AMH mainly because of their generally more advanced morphology than that of H. erectus and other archaic populations (Liu et al., 2010b), especially in terms of the crown breath/length index. These teeth also lack major archaic suprastructural characteristics listed by Bermúdez de Castro (1988) for eastern Asian mid-Pleistocene hominins, such as “strong tuberculum linguale (incisors), marked lingual inclination of the buccal face (incisors and canines), buccal cingulum (canines and molars), wrinkling (molars), taurodontism (molars), swelling of the buccal faces (molars)” (Tim Compton, Personal communication). However, in their roots, these teeth still retain a few archaic features, being more robust and complicated than those of modern humans (Liu et al., 2010b).

Zhirendong jaw
Let's not forget that further South in China, in Zhirendong, a "modern" jaw was found and dated to c. 100,000 years ago as well.

As for the so-called "molecular clock":
The new timeline for human evolution in China is in disagreement with the molecular clock that posits a late appearance for AMH in eastern Asia (e.g., Chu et al., 1998).

... too bad for the "clock", because a clock that doesn't inform us of time with at least some accuracy is totally useless.


  1. There are nearly AMH teeth in Israel 200-400 kYBP, why not in China 100 kYBP?

    1. I am unaware that anybody is taken those Palestinian findings seriously. The paper continues being pay per view after all these years, so I can't see the details but I have something clear: that in all the Mediterranean area there are remains in that period of evolved H. ergaster and not yet of H. sapiens (not even in Africa until 190,000 BP), so they are very much suspect of misidentification.

      Instead in East Asia all we have before the arrival of H. sapiens is H. erectus of the first wave, the differences are much more clear therefore. Additionally this finding is not a isolate but it is supported by a growing pile of other evidence all through Asia.

  2. Why certain extremely mTDNA or Y haplotypes are not found if humans interbreed with other Homo species (or subspecies)?

    For example, the last common ancestor of Neandhertal is like 600ky old, so at least some of those markers should be that old if up 3% of the Eurasian population have that admixture.

    1. One of the reasons is that there are not so many ancient DNA sequences, drift should explain the rest (major lineages tend to take over, minority ones to go extinct, just statistical tendencies).

      However there is one X-DNA lineage which seems to be (with great certainty) of Neanderthal origin. Again this fits with statistical logic.

  3. Dear Maju;
    Y-haplotype A00 is almost certainly an archaic relic.

    1. Yes, I know that, in fact I wrote that myself. What do you mean? I mean my interpretation is that it is, along with other deep-age Y-DNA lineages of West Africa, that they seem to represent an episode of admixture with other Homo species, closely related to H. sapiens but not quite the same. These lineages (very rare in any case) are restricted to West Africa but there may have been another similar admixture event in East or Southern Africa along the other line of migration from the Mid-Upper Nile basin, which is most likely the urheimat of our species.

  4. I love this blog and am bereft to discover that its on the bubble of doom due to Trollage! Questions regarding these Ancient Chinese teeth:
    Can DNA be extracted from los dientes, or the jaw?
    I assume there aren't any skulls about to examine...

    Are you familiar with the South African Anthropologist Neuroscientist Dean Falk? SHe had a great book about cranial endocasts...those Neanderthal brains were very different from us modern humans...

    1. Teeth are one of the most used sources of aDNA. Other bones may do. However the success depends on preservation conditions, which are in principle much better in the colder latitudes. That's why Altai "Denisovan" and Neanderthal aDNA was so well preserved for example.

      There are many remains still to study or re-study (many studies, sadly enough, have been quite cheapskate, resulting in not too clear results).

      "...those Neanderthal brains were very different from us modern humans"...

      As far as I understand, this is hotly debated because we really do not know too well how our own brains work, with new data arising every other month. A reason is that our brains are extremely flexible, what results in, for example, blind people recycling their vision areas into other uses, etc.

      I do think that Neanderthals were somewhat different to us but their most clear differences are physical: heavier, stronger, with shorter legs and forearms. And the results are relative clear in the archaeological record: they tended to use less space for the same geography and they expanded a bit more slowly than we did. This may also be related to the theories about weapon hurling, because even if Neanderthals could obviously hurl weapons, their advantage over us was only in the short distances (excellent wrestlers, sprinters, climbers), posing a major challenge for Sapiens expansion in West Eurasia. After some time (maybe 40 or 50 millennia), this obstacle may have been overcome partly because of ranged fighting and hunting by our kin, which gave us some extra advantage. But maybe also because of dog domestication and other less obvious reasons.


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