New Find Indicates Humans Left Africa Earlier than Believed
Ancient tools and bones have been discovered in China by archaeologists that suggest early humans left Africa and arrived in Asia earlier than previously thought.
The artifacts show that our earliest human ancestors colonized East Asia over two million years ago. They were found by a Chinese team that was led by Professor Zhaoyu Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and included Professor Robin Dennell of Exeter University. The tools were discovered at a locality called Shangchen in the southern Chinese Loess Plateau. The oldest are ca. 2.12 million years old and are c. 270,000 years older than the 1.85 million year old skeletal remains and stone tools from Dmanisi, Georgia, which were previously the earliest evidence of humanity outside Africa.
"It suggests a way earlier migration out of Africa than we ever would have imagined," commeted Michael Petraglia, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute in an independent interview with Live Science
Half a million years before early humans arrived on the scene, hominins were known to have been crafting tools from stone. Evidence of this are rare lithic artifacts which were discovered by scientists working near Lake Turkana, Kenya. They are said to be the oldest stone tools found so far and are dated at more than 3.3 million years old. They were deemed an incredible find as they proved some genius genus was making tools before our full Homo ancestors had developed.
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An assortment of flint tools of various dates during the prehistoric period. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The latest Chinese tools include a notch, scrapers, cobble, hammer stones and pointed pieces. All show signs of use - the stone had been intentionally flaked. Most were made of quartzite and quartz that probably came from the foothills of the Qinling Mountains 5 to 10 km (3.1 to 6.2 miles) to the south of the site, and the streams flowing from them. Fragments of animal bones 2.12 million years old were also found.
Previously, the earliest evidence of hominin existence outside of Africa came from a skeleton and artifacts linked to Homo erectus and dating to 1.85 million years ago found in Dmanisi, in the Republic of Georgia, in 2000.
One of the study co-authors, Robin Dennell, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom is aware that caution is needed when making conclusions based on this type of find. He told Live Science, "The most important point to establish is that they really are artifacts." But he expert’s trained eye are sure of their conclusions. Dennell further stated,
"There are no natural processes that could have flaked these items, so you know that any flaked object could only have been flaked by an early human"
The Chinese Loess Plateau covers about 270,000 square kilometers, and during the past 2.6m years between 100 and 300m (328 to 985 feet) of wind-blown dust - known as loess - has been deposited in the area.
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Topographic map of East Asia, with Loess plateau are of China indicated. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The 80 stone artifacts were found predominantly in 11 different layers of fossil soils which developed in a warm and wet climate. A further 16 items were found in six layers of loess that developed under colder and drier conditions. These 17 different layers of loess and fossil soils were formed during a period spanning almost a million years. This shows that early types of humans occupied the Chinese Loess Plateau under different climatic conditions between 1.2 and 2.12 million years ago.
The layers containing these stone tools were dated by linking the magnetic properties of the layers to known and dated changes in Earth's magnetic field. The dates point to the toolmakers being Homo erectus, but it could be an even earlier ancestor.
Professor Dennell said: "Our discovery means it is necessary now to reconsider the timing of when early humans left Africa.”
Top image: Picture taken at the site of the discovery of ancient tools in China. Source: Prof. Zhaoyu Zhu
The article originally titles ‘Did humans leave Africa earlier than previously thought? Discovery of ancient tools in China’ was originally published on Science Daily.
Source: University of Exeter. "Did humans leave Africa earlier than previously thought? Discovery of ancient tools in China." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 July 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180711131158.htm
Zhaoyu Zhu, Robin Dennell, Weiwen Huang, Yi Wu, Shifan Qiu, Shixia Yang, Zhiguo Rao, Yamei Hou, Jiubing Xie, Jiangwei Han, Tingping Ouyang. Hominin occupation of the Chinese Loess Plateau since about 2.1 million years ago. Nature, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0299-4