Anatomically modern humans reach China well before settling Europe

47 teeth found in Fuyan cave in Daoxian province in Southern-China belong to the earliest modern humans outside Africa.

47 teeth found in Fuyan cave in Daoxian province in Southern-China belong to the earliest modern humans outside Africa.

In Nature this week the discovery of 47 human teeth from a cave in southern China indicating anatomically modern humans were present in the region at least 80,000 years ago. It is the oldest find of anatomically modern humans outside of Africa and adds to understanding of the emergence of modern humans in southern Asia. Remarkably it would take another 40.000 years for modern humans to reach Europe where during this time Neanderthals ruled the roost.

Rare find

The hominid record from southern Asia during the Late Pleistocene (between about 12,000 and 126,000 years ago) is scarce. Well-dated, well-preserved fossils that are older than 45,000 years and that can be confidently attributed to Homo sapiens have been lacking. Recent excavations of Fuyan Cave in Daoxian, southern China, yielded a trove of 47 human teeth and fossils from various extinct and living mammals. Geologist and Archaeologist Mark Sier helped with dating the find:

“My share in this research was focussed on the relation between the dating process and the fossils which enabled us to put our find in context. I showed that the fossil layer was undisturbed and that the age of the Stalagmite covering the fossils was there for the minimal age of these fossils”

Neanderthal in Europe

Wu Liu, Mark Sier and colleagues report that the teeth date to more than 80,000 years old, although they may be as old as 120,000 years; detailed morphological analysis supports their attribution to anatomically modern humans.

The study indicates that humans with fully modern morphological features were present in southern China 30,000 to 70,000 years earlier than in the eastern Mediterranean and Europe. In addition, the results suggest that southern China may have been inhabited by more derived populations than central and northern China during this period. The authors suggest that the presence of Neanderthal and other hominids in the North of Asia put a halt to the spread of modern humans.

Article: Liu, W. et al., 2015. The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China. Nature online publications.

Last Modified: 15-10-2015