New dating of Homo erectus skull reclassifies Lantian Man as oldest known hominin in northeast Asia
Lantian Man is the name given to subspecies of Homo erectus of which ancient fossils were found in Lantian County, Shaanxi Province in China in 1963. Lantian Man were originally dated to 1.15 million years. However, a new study published in the Journal of Human Evolution , has provided compelling evidence that the fossil is actually 1.63 million years old, making it the oldest fossil hominin ever found in northeast Asia, and its original location the second oldest site with cranial remains outside Africa.
The first remnant of Lantian Man that was found was a mandible (jaw bone) at Chenjiawo in Lantian County. Shortly after this discovery, a cranium (skull) with nasal bones, right maxilla, and three teeth of another specimen of Lantian Man were found at Gongwangling, another site in Lantian County. The cranial capacity is estimated to be relatively small at 780 cubic centimetres.
Lantian Man skull and jaw replicas, Shaanxi History Museum ( Wikimedia Commons )
The new age of Lantian Man was obtained through highly detailed research carried out over 12 years (2001 – 2013), which utilized latest methods including loess-palaeosol stratigraphy, tectonic-geomorphology, sedimentology and mineralogy, geochemistry, palaeontology, paleomagnetism and rock magnetic methods. They also analysed thousands of other samples found in the area.
"This age is consistent with the geological context and the subtropical fossil fauna at Gongwangling, and also the small-brain size of the Gongwangling Homo erectus cranium, similar to that seen in Georgia and Indonesia", said HUANG Weiwen, a professor of the nstitute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, as reported on Phys.org.
Lantian County in Shaanxi Province in China, where the ancient Homo erectus fossils were found ( thetourofChina.com).
According to the researchers, the new dating of Lantian Man suggests that Homo erectus moved eastwards in warm period that occurred just after 1.75 million years ago. They may also have followed southern routes from Africa into Asia, as evidenced by the presence of fossils in Indonesia that are only slightly younger (c. 1.5 – 1.6 million years).
"The revised age extends its age by about half a million years and makes the Gongwangling site a crucial benchmark in establishing the framework of the origin, migration and dispersal of early man in the Old World", said Robin Dennell of University of Exeter in United Kingdom, "It also provides reasonable evidence for re-evaluating the status of other early and controversial human fossils in China and Java. In addition, this new research rewrites the history of the Lantian hominin and provides additional knowledge of human evolution for the public".
Featured image: A facial reconstruction of ‘Lantian Man’, based on a skull found in China ( Wikimedia Commons )