China: oldest modern man discovered

Human development in Asia more complex than imagined

Lower jaw A 40, 000-year-old skeleton of a modern man found in China. © Erik Trinkaus
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A 40, 000-year-old skeleton of an early modern human being found in China now seems to shake up the "Out of Africa" ​​theory of human evolution - at least as far as the evolution of modern humans in Asia is concerned. At any rate, this is suggested by new data now published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers led by Erik Trinkaus from the University of Washington and his colleagues Hong Shang from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing have studied a fossil skeleton discovered in 2003 in the Tianyuan Cave near the city of Beijing. The skeletal remains, dated to between 42, 000 and 38, 500 years, make the relics the oldest modern human in China and one of the oldest in eastern Eurasia.

New Insights into the Origin of Modern Man in East Asia?

In principle, the skeleton resembles that of modern man, but has a few archaic characteristics, especially in the teeth and the hand bones. According to the researchers, these very characteristics contradict the simple propagation of modern man from Africa into the world, as the "Out of Africa" ​​theory says. Instead, the new data could support the alternative theory of an independent development of modern humans from the pre-human.

"The discovery promises to provide relevant paleontological data for our understanding of the emergence of modern humans in East Asia, " Trinkaus said. In this region, other, younger skeletons with similar archaic features had been discovered before. Further investigations must now clarify how exactly the development could have gone here.

(Washington University, St. Louis, 03.04.2007 - NPO) advertisement