Oldest Modern Human Outside of Africa Found

Chinese fossil challenges traditional early-human time line

Jawbones of an early human found in China.

Rachel Kaufman

for National Geographic News

Published October 25, 2010

A fossil human jawbone discovered in southern Chinais upsetting conventional notions of when our ancestors migrated out of Africa.

The mandible, unearthed by paleontologists in China’s Zhiren Cave in 2007, sports a distinctly modern feature: a prominent chin. But the bone is undeniably 60,000 years older than the next oldest Homo sapiens remains in China, scientists say.

In fact, at about a hundred thousand years old, the Chinese fossil is “the oldest modern human outside of Africa,” said study co-author Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

(Also see “Oldest Skeleton of Human Ancestor Found.”)

Popular theory states that Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago, at which point modern humans quickly replaced early human species such asHomo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis across the world.

Finding such an ancient example of a modern human in China would drastically alter the time line of human migration. The find may also mean that modern humans in China were mingling—and possibly even interbreeding—with other human species for 50,000 or 60,000 years. What’s more, the find seems to suggest that anatomically modern humans had arrived in China long before the species began acting human. National Geographic link

The oldest human jawbone from China is described in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

(Related: “Neanderthals, Humans Interbred—First Solid DNA Evidence.”)

October 26, 2010

New Fossil Discovery in China Redefines Emergence of Modern Humans

HofmeyrAn international team of researchers based at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing has discovered well-dated human fossils in southern China that markedly change anthropologists perceptions of the emergence of modern humans in the eastern Old World.

The discovery of early modern human fossil remains in the Zhirendong (Zhiren Cave) in south China that are at least 100,000 years old provides the earliest evidence for the emergence of modern humans in eastern Asia, at least 60,000 years older than the previously known modern humans in the region.

“These fossils are helping to redefine our perceptions of modern human emergence in eastern Eurasia, and across the Old World more generally,” says Eric Trinkaus, PhD, the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor in Arts & Sciences and professor of physical anthropology.

“This is the breakthrough humanity has been waiting for”—Prof Prosen 

The Zhirendong fossils have a mixture of modern and archaic features that contrasts with earlier modern humans in east Africa and southwest Asia, indicating some degree of human population continuity in Asia with the emergence of modern humans.

The Zhirendong humans indicate that the spread of modern human biology long preceded the cultural and technological innovations of the Upper Paleolithic and that early modern humans co-existed for many tens of millennia with late archaic humans further north and west across Eurasia.

The research was published Oct. 25 in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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