Teeth Discovered in China Show that Modern Humans Left Africa at Least 30,000 Years Earlier than Previously Thought
A team of Chinese and Spanish researchers say that at least 80,000 years ago there were Homo sapiens, with a completely modern appearance, already living in Asia. This assertion is based on the thorough analysis carried out on 47 teeth which belonged to at least 13 individuals.
The newspaper El Mundo reports that the teeth were recovered in the Fuyan Cave, located in the south of China, in Daoxian. The study was presented in the journal Nature and shows that modern humans lived in Asia long before they arrived in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean: between 30,000 to 70,000 years before, in fact.
"The Daoxian teeth are the earliest evidence of modern humans out of Africa that we have today," Maria Martinon-Torres, a researcher at the University College London, member of the research team at Atapuerca since 1998 and co-author of the study, told El Mundo. She also said:
"The majority of the scientific community has supported the hypothesis that modern humans left Africa only around 50,000 years ago, which is known as the "Recent Out of Africa" hypothesis. Other previous evidence on the possibility of Homo sapiens in Asia before 50,000 years ago has not been accepted unanimously, either because it could not be ascertained that they were part of our species or because their stratigraphic context, i.e. exact origin and dating, creating doubts. With our study of the Daoxian remains we have broken the quarantine to which these assumptions were subject."
"The Daoxian teeth are the earliest evidence of modern humans out of Africa that we have today," says Maria Martinon-Torres, a co-author of the current study. (historiayarqueología.com)
Another of the lead researchers, Liu Wu of China's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), told CNN “The fossils reveal that 80,000 years ago, the first modern humans appeared somewhere in southern China. We believe that southern China probably was a central area for modern evolution."
"Modern humans arrived in Europe some 40,000 years ago and in China and Australia there is previous evidence for their existence between 45,000 and 50,000 years ago. So a minimum figure of 80,000 years ago for the Fuyan Cave is a major leap. It also confirms the hypothesis about the departure of Homo sapiens out of Africa much earlier than previously thought and their passage via the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, on the Horn of Africa."
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The Bab el-Mandeb Strait on the Horn of Africa: the place where Homo sapiens left Africa much earlier than previously thought, according to Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, co-author of the current study. (Public Domain)
Although remains of Homo sapiens from 90,000 years ago have been found at the sites of Skhul and Qafzeh caves in Israel, the fact is that these individuals still retain some archaic or primitive features – something not present in the Daoxian fossils.
"This article forces the scientific community to rearrange all the information on how, when and perhaps why this first expansion outside of Africa took place. In addition, there is no doubt that new projects will be launched in China and perhaps in other regions of Southeast Asia to confirm the antiquity of our study," Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro told El Mundo.
The teeth were discovered with a wide variety of fossils of other mammals, both extinct and existent. According to Maria Martinon-Torres the evidence for the dating came about because: “All the fossils have been sealed in a calcitic floor, which is like a gravestone, sealing them off. So the teeth have to be older than that layer. Above that are stalagmites that have been dated using uranium series to 80,000 years.”
The maximum age of the teeth has been dated to 120,000 years ago. This earlier date has been inferred by the wildlife that was found near the human remains – which is typical of the Upper Pleistocene period.
Neanderthals and Modern Humans
Martinon-Torres mused that:
"It is interesting to think that while modern humans were in Asia about 100,000 years ago, they were not able to get into Europe until only 40,000 years ago . We think that maybe Neanderthals were an additional barrier to a tropical species (Homo sapiens) that was not ready for the hostile climate - even though the Neanderthals were able to survive there for hundreds of thousands of years. We always thought that the entry of Homo sapiens caused the Neanderthal extinction. But perhaps we should also be open to the possibility that they only were able to open the way when Neanderthals began to decline, after such a long isolation in a difficult location. It was only when Neanderthals were exhausted demographically and genetically weaker that Homo sapiens had the opportunity to enter."
Anatomical comparison of skulls of Homo Sapiens (left) and Homo neanderthalensis (right). Museum of Natural History in Cleveland. (Hairymuseummatt / CC BY - SA 2.0)
Bermudez de Castro and Martinon-Torres have been collaborating for years with the IVPP in Beijing. The Spanish investigators visited the site of Daoxian a year ago and examined the original teeth. There they were able to see that the conditions of the cave were not ideal, so the more resistant skeletal human and animal remains are the only ones that endured the long passage of time.
Featured image: The teeth found in the Fuyan Cave, located in southern China, in Daoxian, Hunan Province. (S.Xing / XJ.Wu / El Mundo)
By: Mariló TA
This article was first published in Spanish at https://www.ancient-origins.es/ and has been translated with permission.