An international team of researchers, some of them from the Centrro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), have participated in a study of 47 human teeth from a cave in southern China indicating that anatomically modern humans were present in the region at least 80,000 years ago. The findings, reported in Nature this week, add to understanding of the emergence of modern humans in southern Asia.
The hominin record from southern Asia during the Late Pleistocene (between about 12,000 and 126,000 years ago) is scarce. Well-dated, well-preserved fossils that are older than 45,000 years and that can be confidently attributed to Homo sapiens have been lacking. Recent excavations of Fuyan Cave in Daoxian, southern China, yielded a trove of 47 human teeth and fossils from various extinct and living mammals.
According to the authors the teeth date to more than 80,000 years old, although they may be as old as 120,000 years; detailed morphological analysis supports their attribution to anatomically modern humans. The teeth are smaller than other Late Pleistocene specimens from Asia and Africa and bear a closer resemblance to Late Pleistocene Europeans and even contemporary humans, the authors find.
The study indicates that humans with fully modern morphological features were present in southern China 30,000 to 70,000 years earlier than in the eastern Mediterranean and Europe. In addition, the results suggest that southern China may have been inhabited by more derived populations than central and northern China during this period. The work may also provide insights into the dispersal of modern humans, and in particular, the reasons for the relatively late entry of modern humans into Europe.