Ancient Human Fossils found in China - Zhirendong cave

Ancient Human Fossils found in China Challenge Out-of-Africa Theory

The origin of human beings (anatomically modern Homo sapiens) and their movement across the globe have been fundamental questions in human evolutionary studies for over a century. While the accepted theory states that Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago and migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago, new archaeological findings are consistently challenging this now outdated perspective. A report published in New Scientist draws attention to recent discoveries in China and south-east Asia, which suggest that Homo sapiens inhabited the region long before the Out-of-Africa Theory would have us believe.

Last month, Christopher Bae of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Wei Wang of the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities in Nanning, China, and their colleagues announced the discovery of two teeth from the Luna cave in China's Guangxi Zhuang region, which testing suggests belonged to an early Homo sapiens. The study, published in Quaternary International , revealed that calcite crystals, which formed as water flowed over the teeth and the cave floor, date them to between 70,000 and 125,000 years ago.  So Bae and Wang say they are evidence of an early wave of modern humans in eastern Asia.

However, this is not the only discovery of human fossils outside Africa to upset conventional notions of when our ancestors migrated out of Africa.  In the last decade, archaeologists found an upper jaw from an early modern human dating back 150,000 years in Misliya cave, located in what is now Israel, as well as a jawbone and two molars from Zhirendong, a cave in Guizhou province, China, which dates back around 100,000 years.

A Homo Sapiens fossil from Misliya Cave

A Homo Sapiens fossil from Misliya Cave. Image source .

"There is solid evidence of modern humans at Tam Pa Ling [in Laos] around 50,000 or 60,000 years ago, and the Zhirendong mandible has modern features," said Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, who was involved in the identification of the jawbone and teeth. "So yes, modern humans were present in at least south-east Asia and south China by somewhere in this time range."

Zhirendong cave

Zhirendong, where fossils belonging to Homo sapiens have been found. Image source .

Findings such as these should drastically alter the time line of human migration, however, an earlier migration out of Africa is still very much a minority perspective. Others argue that the discoveries may suggest that Homo sapiens evolved separately in different parts of the world at around the same time.

Whatever the case may be, it is time to abandon previous notions that Homo sapiens were not present in other regions of the world before 60,000 years ago. Enough evidence now exists to seriously challenge this idea; proponents of the Out-of-Africa theory must re-evaluate current perspectives and explore other possibilities in order to make way for a new understanding of the origins of our species.

Featured image: Several views of a human jawbone and molars found in a Chinese cave. Credit: Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

By April Holloway


I don't see muc of a contradiction. Israel is only few days walk away from the Nile Valley. Tere were also Modern Human remains found in Australia, this is probably part of the first ong of shoot from Africa as the remains founs in laos and China. It was the more dfficult migration north of Africa and away from the Indian Ocean that started 50,000 years ago.

The 'Out of Africa' theory only applies to less than 60% of the known human ancestral populations. The rest of the fossil remains have traces of DNA from a variety of non-African sources. The fact that continents have separated and collided over the millennia means that several proto-human species and their descendants may never have been in what is now Africa. A majority of them - at various periods there were more than a dozen proto-human species living at the time time - could well have emerged and evolved in Eurasia. (Pekin Man, the Neanderthals and the Denisovians are probably their best known representatives, though there certainly several others). The modern dominance of the African (Homo sapiens) species may be just an historical accident. I do not seriously doubt that, somewhere in the vast expanses of Asia - and perhaps also in the Americas - there are innumerable fossil clues to the true human lineage, (probably more ancient than any yet found in Africa), which still await discovery.

Tsurugi's picture

Conventional timelines for the movement of landmasses due to tectonics indicates the process takes hundreds of millions of years. Are you saying you think that time scale is wrong? Or do you think humans or their ancestors have been around for that long?

Seven Star Hand's picture

All the precursors to early humans are found in Africa. The only thing this shows is that human migrations and other interactions, in both directions, have been going on for a very long time. Early assertions about timelines were wrong but not the general concept. Also, there is evidence of ongoing interbreeding between what we have been told were different human species, but the results say otherwise. We find homo-erectus a very long way from Africa because we have been travelers and explorers for over a million years. Too many people underestimate the intelligence and resourcefulness of early humans and so-called pre- humans, who clearly were seafaring long before many scientists gave them credit for having fire, cooking, clothing, and other tech.

More knowledge should always adjust our assessments when warranted, but jumping to unfounded conclusions on so little data is the path to error.

Tsurugi's picture

So when new data forces changes in existing theory, that is "adjusting assessments", but any consideration that the new data may point to alternative theory is "jumping to unfounded conclusions"?

Isn't any "assessment" needing "adjusting" based on new evidence, actually an unfounded conclusion being corrected? Could we not say that entirely different theories inspired by the new evidence are merely "alternative assessments"?

You said "All precursors to early humans are found in Africa."
That statement seems to imply that no precursors yet discovered outside Africa means there will never be such a discovery, and that such discoveries are definitely human ancestors. Neither of those implications are valid conclusions...but I would grant they are valid assessments based on incomplete data.

The point being, any theory, when considered as a conclusion, is unfounded. Characterizing theories you disagree with as conclusions in order to discredit them while waving away errors in theories you prefer as merely assessment adjustments is not a valid argument, it's just a sneaky debate tactic based on semantic slight of hand.


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