one rendering of Stone-Age modern human
The earliest evidence of modern humans in China — dated to 80,000–120,000 years before present — was found at Fuyan Cave in southern China's Hunan province. At Fuyan Cave Teeth were found under rock over which 80,000 years old stalagmites had grown. Genetic studies of 28 of China's 56 ethnic groups, published by the Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project in 2000, indicate that the first Chinese descended from Africans who migrated along the Indian Ocean and made their way to China via Southeast Asia. [Source: Wikipedia]

In December 2007, an almost complete human skull estimated to be 100,000 years old was found in Xuchang in the central province of Henan. The fossil consists of 16 pieces of skull with protruding eyebrows and a small forehead. Li Zhanyang, an archeologist with the Henan Cultural Relics and Archeology Research Institute told Reuters, “More astonishing than the completeness of the skull is that it still has a fossilized membrane on the inner side, so scientist can track the nerves of the Paleolithic ancestor." The fossil was discovered after two years of excavations. Li said, “We expect more discoveries of importance."

According to Archaeology magazine: Obscure engravings on animal bones from the site of Lingjing in Henan Province suggest that early hominins who lived there 125,000 years ago may have had more advanced cognitive abilities than once believed. The mysterious markings proved to have been etched into the bone, which was then rubbed with red ochre powder to make the markings more visible. Experts do not yet know why early humans made these abstract designs, nor what they represent. [Source: Archaeology magazine, November-December 2019]

According to Archaeology magazine: A skull fragment more than 100,000 years old displays the signs of a rare congenital birth defect called an enlarged parietal foramen. The bones, excavated in northern China in the 1970s, suggest that the individual also had neurological deficiencies. Combined with other rare genetic conditions that have been observed in early human fossils from this period, the researchers theorize that inbreeding, which can result in a greater incidence of such defects, may have been used as a survival strategy for certain isolated small populations. [Source: Samir S. Patel, Archaeology magazine, July-August 2013]

Evidence of human habitation has been found on Minatogawa, an island between Taiwan and Japan, dated to 18,000 years ago, and at Zhoukoudian (Shadingdong) in central-eastern China, dated to 11,000 years ago. Pottery vessels, weapons, and stone tools have been discovered in Chinese graves dating back to Neolithic times (9000-6000 B.C.).

Hominins in China

Evidence has been found of early paleolithic hominins living in China more than 1 million years ago. The remains of Homo erectus (Peking Man or Sinanthropus pekinensis), found southwest of Beijing in 1927, date from around 700,000 years ago. Hominins are early forms of humans. Until recently scientists believed that man evolved in Africa and didn't leave that continent until 1.5 million years ago and the first hominin to arrive in Asia and Europe was Homo erectus, a species which includes the famous Java Man and Peking Man. Now scientists working in China and elsewhere in Asia are challenging these theories.

The discovery of 1.7-million-year-old hominin fossils in Georgia that were not Homo erectus and redating of the Java Man Homo erectus fossils in Indonesia to be about the same age suggests that Homo erectus may have migrated into Asia as early as 2 million years ago — and then migrated across the continent very quickly — and other hominin species were running about at around the same time. There is also evidence that a hominin species more primitive than Homo erectus may have evolved in China before that time.

The earliest evidence of early modern humana (used to be called Cro-Magnon Man) in China dates to around 100,000 to 40,000 years ago. What took place between the arrival of the first hominins in Asia roughly 2 million years ago and the earliest modern humans is very sketchy, ambiguous and confusing.

Fuyan Cave: Evidence of Modern Humans in China At Least 80,000 Years Ago

In 2015, Chinese scientists announced they discovered 47 teeth from modern humans in Fuyan Cave in southern China's Hunan province that date back at least 80,000 years. Zach Zorich wrote in Archaeology magazine: Fuyan Cave does not contain any artifacts, but it did have 47 teeth that came from the mouths of Homo sapiens The teeth came from at least 13 individuals. There is no evidence that people ever lived in the cave, and Martinon-Torres suspects the teeth were washed in by a flood. The 47 teeth all have characteristics of Homo sapiens dentition: They are relatively small and lack the complex convolutions on the chewing surfaces of other hominin teeth. They were found among the bones and teeth of other Pleistocene mammals, including hyena, giant tapir, an extinct species of elephant, and a possible ancestor of the panda. Martinon-Torres hopes that genetic analysis and further archaeological investigation will reveal how the people of Fuyan Cave are related to modern-day people. [Source:Zach Zorich, Archaeology magazine, January-February 2016]

Charles Q. Choi wrote in Live Science: China “is dotted with fossil-rich caves. Fuyan Cave is part of a system of caves more than 32,300 square feet (3,000 square meters) in size. Excavations from 2011 to 2013 yielded a trove of 47 human teeth, as well as bones from many other extinct and living animals, such as pandas, hyenas and pigs. The scientists detailed their findings in the Oct. 15 issue of the journal Nature. [Source: Charles Q. Choi, Live Science, October 14, 2015 ~~] ~~

“The researchers found these teeth are more than 80,000 years old, and may date back as far as 120,000 years. Until now, fossils from southern China confirmed as older than 45,000 years in age that can be confidently identified as modern human in origin have been lacking. "Our discovery, together with other research findings, suggests southern China should be the key, central area for the emergence and evolution of modern humans in East Asia," the study's co-lead author, Wu Liu, of China's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, told Live Science. ~~

Does Fuyan Cave Show Early Humans Reached China Before Europe?

▪ The Fuyan Cave find shows that modern man had reached China more than 30,000 years before entering Europe, and is changing ideas about how Homo sapiens settled the world beyond Africa. Charles Q. Choi wrote in Live Science, “Teeth from a cave in China suggest that modern humans lived in Asia much earlier than previously thought, and tens of thousands of years before they reached Europe, researchers say...Modern humans first originated about 200,000 years ago in Africa. When and how the modern human lineage dispersed from Africa has long been controversial. Previous research suggested the exodus from Africa began between 70,000 and 40,000 years ago. However, recent research hinted that modern humans might have begun their march across the globe as early as 130,000 years ago. [Source: Charles Q. Choi, Live Science, October 14, 2015 ~~]

“These newfound teeth are smaller than counterparts of similar ages from Africa and elsewhere in China. Instead, they more closely resemble teeth from contemporary modern humans. This suggests different kinds of humans were living in China at the same time — archaic kinds in northern China, and ones more like modern humans in southern China.The researchers said these findings could shed light on why modern humans made a relatively late entry into Europe. There is currently no evidence that modern humans entered Europe before 45,000 years ago, even though they made it as far as southern China at least as early as 80,000 years ago. The investigators suggested that Neanderthals might have prevented modern humans from crossing into Europe until after Neanderthals began dying off.” The main thing holding scientists back from making further conclusions is that archaeological evidence is lacking from Fuyan Cave and other sites from that period in China." ~~

Maria Martinon-Torres, a paleoanthropologist at University College London, told Archaeology magazine Neanderthals and other archaic hominins such as the Denisovans may have kept Homo sapiens out of Europe and northern Asia for at least 40,000 years. Homo sapiens then could have moved into those areas after the populations of Neanderthals and Denisovans began to collapse. “We should leave behind the idea of hominins dispersing as if they were tourists or a troop Marching, in a lineal fashion,” says Martinon-Torres. Instead of settling lands closest to Africa first, our species might have traveled the unoccupied coast of South Asia into what is now China. [Source: Zach Zorich, Archaeology magazine, January-February 2016]

100,000-Year-Old Modern Human Fossil Found in Guanxi, China

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Modern human skull (but not from China)

A 100,000- year-old fossil human jawbone discovered in southern China has raised serious questions about when the modern humans migrated out of Africa. The mandible, unearthed by paleontologists in Zhiren Cave in Guanxi Province in southern China in 2007, sports a distinctly modern feature: a prominent chin. The fossil was called "the oldest modern human outside of Africa," by study co-author Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis. [Source: Rachel Kaufman, National Geographic News, October 25, 2010 |~|]

The discovery of such an ancient example of a modern human in China drastically alters the time line of human migration. The find may also mean that modern humans in China were mingling---and possibly even interbreeding---with other human species for 50,000 or 60,000 years. |~|

The find also seems to suggest that anatomically modern humans had arrived in China long before the species began acting human. For example, symbolic thought is a distinctly human trait that involves using things such as beads and drawings to represent objects, people, and events. The first strong evidence for this trait doesn't appear in the archaeological record in China until 30,000 years ago, Trinkaus said. |~|

So far, genetic evidence largely supports the traditional timing of the "out of Africa" theory. But the newly described China jawbone presents a strong challenge, said anthropologist Christopher Bae of the University of Hawaii, who was not associated with the find. "They actually have solid dates and evidence of, basically, a modern human," he said. |~|

Still, the jaw and three molars were the only human remains retrieved from the Chinese cave, and the jaw is "within the range" of Neanderthal chins as well as those of modern humans, added paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "If this holds up, we have to reevaluate" the human migration time line, he said. "Basically, I think they're right, [but] I want to see more evidence," Hawks added. "I really, really hope that there can be some sort of genetic extraction from this [fossil]." The oldest human jawbone from China is described in an October 2010 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. |~|

40,000-Year-Old Modern Human Fossil in China

In 2007, researchers announced they had found 34 bone fragments belonging to a single individual at the Tianyuan Cave site in the Zhoukoudian region, near where the Peking Man bones were found and not far from Beijing. The bones were first discovered in 2003. Based on radiocarbon analysis, the bones were dated to be 42,000 to 38,500 years old, making it about the same age as an early modern humans from Romania, and a skeleton from a Niah Cave in Sarawak, Malaysia. The individual who the bones belonged to was given the name Tianyuan Man. [Source: John Roach, National Geographic News, April 3, 2007 ^]

John Roach wrote in National Geographic News: “The find adds to evidence that the first Homo sapiens occasionally mated with older human species such as Neanderthals. The remains share a few characteristics with older human species, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and colleagues with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. ^

“The Chinese skeleton and similarly dated specimens from Europe and Asia have traits that had already been lost in the earliest modern humans found in Africa. You would think the 40,000-year-old modern human skeletons from outside Africa should look modern human fossils from Africa or slightly more evolved. "What we find is overwhelmingly they do," Trinkhaus said. "But these archaic characteristics that had been lost in African moderns keep popping up." ^


“The skeleton from China, for example, has a genetically determined dental feature common in Neanderthals that is not present in early modern humans from Africa. "When we look at this new Chinese specimen, what we see is the archaic in tooth proportions. The individual has relatively large, big front teeth," Trinkhaus said. The China specimen also has the spatula-shaped, rounded fingertips common among older human ancestors, instead of the narrow fingertips of early modern humans from Africa. The wristbones, as well, display archaic features, Trinkaus said. "So it's a couple of little features like this that show up in this individual. And so yes, it's a modern human, but given the earlier African modern humans, it's not just what you would expect," he said. ^

Chris Stringer, the head of the human-origins program at the Natural History Museum in London, England, said the Chinese skeleton is an important find that will help document the process of how modern humans became established in the region. However, he is unconvinced that the skeletal analysis is proof of interbreeding between early modern humans from Africa and more archaic species. "The problem is that we lack decent samples of early modern humans from Africa between [40,000 and] 80,000 years ago," he commented in an email. But the appropriate skeletal evidence is not yet represented in the fossil record, he said. "I will keep an open mind on the extent of hypothesized admixture, while noting the interesting fact that this skeleton shows the same linear physique as early European and Israeli early moderns---a physique that may reflect a recent African origin," he said. Stringer said, "There are just a couple of data points there, but it's very hard for me to explain the anatomy we see in both [the Malaysian and Chinese] specimens without saying, Yes indeed, people do what people do: that is, they get it together," he said. And sometimes when it comes to selecting mates, he added, "people are not very choosy."” ^

Isotope analysis of Tianyuan Man suggests that a substantial part his diet came from freshwater fish (See Below). DNA-testing of haplogroup B in 2013 revealed that he was related "to many present-day Asians and Native Americans...but had already diverged genetically from the ancestors of present-day Europeans". [Source: Wikipedia]

Modern Human Sites in China

In 1973, the so-called 'New Cave Man' was discovered at Zhoukoudian, where hominin remains dating to 200,000 to 100,000 years ago were found. Around 20,000 years ago, the humans living in the vicinity of Zhoukoudian were given the name Mountaintop Cave Man following the discovery of their remains in a cave above the Beijing Man Cave. Discovered in 1933, the cave contained some interesting artifacts, including an 82-millimeter bone needle, with a shiny surface, slightly arced in shape, and very sharp side. A very fine instrument was sued to hollow out a tiny hole. It is believed that Mountaintop Cave Man sewed and clothed himself with animal hides and leather. Among the other objects found at the site have been earrings, animal teeth with holes in them for stringing, fishbones, ocean shells, stone beads, and bones carved in particular ways. [Source: China’s Museums]

In July 2015, Archeology magazine reported; The 100,000-year-old remains of at least nine individuals have so far been unearthed at the Lingjing Historical Site in central China by a team from the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Two of the limb bones, which may have belonged to the same young individual, carry bite marks. “We are not quite sure whether those [bite marks] were from predators or other humans,” researcher Li Zhanyang told China Daily. Sixteen pieces of a skull known as Xuchang Man that still bore traces of a fossilized membrane were recovered from the site in 2008. “Different from the ancient human skull fossils that were discovered eight years ago, the first discovery of limb bone fossils provides more opportunities to decode the process of human evolution,” Li said. [Source: Archeology magazine Thursday, July 23, 2015]

Peking Man Site: Home of Early Modern Human As well as Homo erectus

Zhoukoudian was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987. According to UNESCO: The 480-hectare “Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian is a Pleistocene hominin site on the North China Plain. This site lies... at the juncture of the North China Plain and the Yanshan Mountains. Adequate water supplies and natural limestone caves in this area provided an optimal survival environment for early humans. Scientific work at the site is still under way. So far, ancient human fossils, cultural remains and animal fossils from 23 localities within the property dating from 5 million years ago to 10,000 years ago have been discovered by scientists. These include the remains of Homo erectus pekinensis, who lived in the Middle Pleistocene (700,000 to 200,000 years ago), archaic Homo sapiens of about 200,000–100,000 years ago and Homo sapiens sapiens dating back to 30,000 years ago. At the same time, fossils of hundreds of animal species, over 100,000 pieces of stone tools and evidence (including hearths, ash deposits and burnt bones) of Peking Man using fire have been discovered. [Source: UNESCO ~]

“As the site of significant hominin remains discovered in the Asian continent demonstrating an evolutionary cultural sequence, Zhoukoudian is of major importance within the worldwide context. It is not only an exceptional reminder of the prehistoric human societies of the Asian continent, but also illustrates the process of human evolution, and is of significant value in the research and reconstruction of early human history. ~

“The discovery of hominin remains at Zhoukoudian and subsequent research in the 1920s and ‘30s excited universal interest, overthrowing the chronology of Man’s history that had been generally accepted up to that time. The excavations and scientific work at the Zhoukoudian site are thus of significant value in the history of world archaeology, and have played an important role in the world history of science.”

Human migrations based on genetic evidence beginning 140,000 years ago

Mysteries and Confusion Regarding Human Evolution in Asia and China

The fossil evidence from the period between Peking Man, roughly 1 million to 500,000 years ago, and the earliest modern human found in China, roughly 40,000 years ago is scarce and often confusing and ambiguous. “It is the least understood episode in human evolution, Russell Ciochon, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Iowa, told Nature. “But it's central to our understanding of humanity's ultimate origin.” Jane Qiy wrote: “The tale is further muddled by Chinese fossils analysed over the past four decades, which cast doubt over the linear progression from African H. erectus to modern humans. They show that, between roughly 900,000 and 125,000 years ago, east Asia was teeming with hominins endowed with features that would place them somewhere between H. erectus and H. sapiens, says Wu Xinzhi, a palaeontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing. “Those fossils are a big mystery,” says Ciochon. “They clearly represent more advanced species than H. erectus, but nobody knows what they are because they don't seem to fit into any categories we know.” [Source: Jane Qiu, Nature magazine, July 13, 2016 |:|]

The fossils' transitional characteristics have prompted researchers such as Stringer to lump them with H. heidelbergensis. Because the oldest of these forms, two skulls uncovered in Yunxian in Hubei province, date back 900,000 years, Stringer even suggests that H. heidelbergensis might have originated in Asia and then spread to other continents. But many researchers, including most Chinese palaeontologists, contend that the materials from China are different from European and African H. heidelbergensis fossils, despite some apparent similarities. One nearly complete skull unearthed at Dali in Shaanxi province and dated to 250,000 years ago, has a bigger braincase, a shorter face and a lower cheekbone than most H. heidelbergensis specimens, suggesting that the species was more advanced. |:|

“Such transitional forms persisted for hundreds of thousands of years in China, until species appeared with such modern traits that some researchers have classified them as H. sapiens. One of the most recent of these is represented by two teeth and a lower jawbone, dating to about 100,000 years ago, unearthed in 2007 by IVPP palaeoanthropologist Liu Wu and his colleagues. Discovered in Zhirendong, a cave in Guangxi province, the jaw has a classic modern-human appearance, but retains some archaic features of Peking Man, such as a more robust build and a less-protruding chin. |:|

Peking Man: an Ancestor Modern Chinese?

Jane Qiu wrote in Nature: “Most Chinese palaeontologists — and a few ardent supporters from the West — think that the transitional fossils are evidence that Peking Man was an ancestor of modern Asian people. In this model, known as multiregionalism or continuity with hybridization, hominins descended from H. erectus in Asia interbred with incoming groups from Africa and other parts of Eurasia, and their progeny gave rise to the ancestors of modern east Asians, says Wu. [Source: Jane Qiu, Nature magazine, July 13, 2016 |:|]

“Support for this idea also comes from artefacts in China. In Europe and Africa, stone tools changed markedly over time, but hominins in China used the same type of simple stone instruments from about 1.7 million years ago to 10,000 years ago. According to Gao Xing, an archaeologist at the IVPP, this suggests that local hominins evolved continuously, with little influence from outside populations. |:|

“Some Western researchers suggest that there is a hint of nationalism in Chinese palaeontologists' support for continuity. “The Chinese — they do not accept the idea that H. sapiens evolved in Africa,” says one researcher. “They want everything to come from China.” Chinese researchers reject such allegations. “This has nothing to do with nationalism,” says Wu. It's all about the evidence — the transitional fossils and archaeological artefacts, he says. “Everything points to continuous evolution in China from H. erectus to modern human.”

But the continuity-with-hybridization model is countered by overwhelming genetic data that point to Africa as the wellspring of modern humans. Studies of Chinese populations show that 97.4% of their genetic make-up is from ancestral modern humans from Africa, with the rest coming from extinct forms such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. “If there had been significant contributions from Chinese H. erectus, they would show up in the genetic data,” says Li Hui, a population geneticist at Fudan University in Shanghai. Wu counters that the genetic contribution from archaic hominins in China could have been missed because no DNA has yet been recovered from them. |:|

Other Theories on Human Evolution in Asia and China

Jane Qiu wrote in Nature: “Many researchers say that there are ways to explain the existing Asian fossils without resorting to continuity with hybridization. The Zhirendong hominins, for instance, could represent an exodus of early modern humans from Africa between 120,000 and 80,000 years ago. Instead of remaining in the Levant in the Middle East, as was thought previously, these people could have expanded into east Asia, says Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, UK. [Source: Jane Qiu, Nature magazine, July 13, 2016 |:|]

20120205-773px-Dispersion of  haplogroup.jpg
Dispersion of haplogroup
to Australia
“Other evidence backs up this hypothesis: excavations at a cave in Daoxian in China's Hunan province have yielded 47 fossil teeth so modern-looking that they could have come from the mouths of people today. But the fossils are at least 80,000 years old, and perhaps 120,000 years old, Liu and his colleagues reported last year. “Those early migrants may have interbred with archaic populations along the way or in Asia, which could explain Zhirendong people's primitive traits,” says Petraglia. |:|

Another possibility is that some of the Chinese fossils, including the Dali skull, represent the mysterious Denisovans, a species identified from Siberian fossils that are more than 40,000 years old. Palaeontologists don't know what the Denisovans looked like, but studies of DNA recovered from their teeth and bones indicate that this ancient population contributed to the genomes of modern humans, especially Australian Aborigines, Papua New Guineans and Polynesians — suggesting that Denisovans might have roamed Asia. |:|

“María Martinón-Torres, a palaeoanthropologist at University College London, is among those who proposed that some of the Chinese hominins were Denisovans. She worked with IVPP researchers on an analysis, published last year, of a fossil assemblage uncovered at Xujiayao in Hebei province — including partial jaws and nine teeth dated to 125,000–100,000 years ago. The molar teeth are massive, with very robust roots and complex grooves, reminiscent of those from Denisovans, she says. |:|

“A third idea is even more radical. It emerged when Martinón-Torres and her colleagues compared more than 5,000 fossil teeth from around the world: the team found that Eurasian specimens are more similar to each other than to African ones. That work and more recent interpretations of fossil skulls suggest that Eurasian hominins evolved separately from African ones for a long stretch of time. The researchers propose that the first hominins that left Africa 1.8 million years ago were the eventual source of modern humans. Their descendants mostly settled in the Middle East, where the climate was favourable, and then produced waves of transitional hominins that spread elsewhere. One Eurasian group went to Indonesia, another gave rise to Neanderthals and Denisovans, and a third ventured back into Africa and evolved into H. sapiens, which later spread throughout the world. In this model, modern humans evolved in Africa, but their immediate ancestor originated in the Middle East. |:|

“Not everybody is convinced. “Fossil interpretations are notoriously problematic,” says Svante Pääbo, a palaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. But DNA from Eurasian fossils dating to the start of the human race could help to reveal which story — or combination — is correct. China is now making a push in that direction. Qiaomei Fu, a palaeogeneticist who did her PhD with Pääbo, returned home last year to establish a lab to extract and sequence ancient DNA at the IVPP. One of her immediate goals is to see whether some of the Chinese fossils belong to the mysterious Denisovan group. The prominent molar teeth from Xujiayao will be an early target. “I think we have a prime suspect here,” she says.” |:|

Maba Man: Evidence of Foul Play and Caring Among Ancient Man?

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A cracked skull found in China may be the oldest known evidence of interpersonal aggression among modern humans, Archaeology magazine reported. A CT scan of the skull, which is around 130,000 years old and known as Maba Man, revealed evidence of severe blunt force trauma, possibly from a clubbing. Remodeling of the bone around the injury, however, shows that he survived the blow and possibly was well cared for after his injury---for months or even years. [Source: Archaeology magazine, March-April 2012, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Science]

Jennifer Welsh wrote in LiveScience: “The Maba Man skull pieces were found in June 1958 in a cave in Lion Rock, near the town of Maba, in Guangdong province, China. They consist of some face bones and parts of the brain case. From those fragments, researchers were able to determine that this was a pre-modern human, perhaps an archaic human. He (or she, since researchers can't tell the sex from the skull bones) would have lived about 200,000 years ago, according to researcher Erik Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis. [Source: Jennifer Welsh, LiveScience, November 21, 2011, based on study published November 21, 2011 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ^^^]

“Decades after the skull bones were discovered, researcher Xiu-Jie Wu at the Chinese Academy of Sciences took a close look at the strange formations on the left side of the forehead, using computed tomography (CT) scans and high-resolution photography. The skull has a small depression, about half an inch long and circular in nature. On the other side of the bone from this indentation, the skull bulges inward into the brain cavity. After deciding against any other possible cause of the bump, including genetic abnormalities, diseases and infections, they were left with the idea that Maba somehow hit his head. The certainties stop there, though. The researchers suggest that all they really know is the ancient human suffered a blow to the head. ^^^

“"What becomes much more speculative is what ultimately caused it," Trinkaus said. "Did they get in an argument with someone else, and they picked something up and hit them over the head?" Based on the size of the indentation and the force needed to cause such a wound, it's possible it was another hominin, Trinkaus said. "This wound is very similar to what is observed today when someone is struck forcibly with a heavy blunt object," said study researcher Lynne Schepartz, from the school of anatomical sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, adding that it "could possibly be the oldest example of interhuman aggression and human-induced trauma documented." Another possibility: Maba might have had a run-in with an animal. A deer antler would be about the right size to make the forehead mark, though the researchers don't know if it would be forceful enough to crack Maba's skull. ^^^

“After the whack on the head, Maba shows considerable healing, suggesting he survived the hit. It could have been months or even years later that he would have died, of some other cause. These hominins lived in groups and Maba would have been taken care of by his group mates. Though nonlethal, the injury likely would have given Maba some memory loss, the researchers said. "This individual, which was an older adult, received a very localized, hard whack on the head," Trinkaus said. "It could have caused short-term amnesia, and certainly a serious headache." ^^^

"Our conclusion is that most likely, and this is a probabilistic statement, [the injury] was caused by another person," Trinkaus told LiveScience. “People are social mammals, we do these kinds of things to each other. Ultimately all social animals have arguments and occasionally whack another and cause injury...It's another case of long-term survival of a pretty serious injury." ^^^

40,000 Year-Old Tianyuan Man Was a Regular Fish Eater

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Analyses of collagen extracted from the lower mandible of the 40,000-year-old human skeleton found in the Tianyuan Cave near Beijing showed the individual that possessed the mandible was a regular consumer of fish. The Max Planck Society reported: “The isotopic analysis of a bone from one of the earliest modern humans in Asia, the 40,000 year old skeleton from Tianyuan Cave in the Zhoukoudian by an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and Washington University in Saint Louis has shown that this individual was a regular fish consumer [Source: Max Planck Society, July 7, 2009; Original work: “Stable Isotope Dietary Analysis of the Tianyuan 1 Early Modern Human” by Yaowu Hu, Hong Shang, Haowen Tong, Olaf Nehlich, Wu Liu, Chaohong Zhao, Jincheng Yu, Changsui Wang, Erik Trinkaus, Michael P. Richards, PNAS. July 7, 2009. Vol. 106, No. 27 /]

“Freshwater fish are a major part of the diet of many peoples around the world, but it has been unclear when fish became a significant part of the year-round diet for early humans. Chemical analysis of the protein collagen, using ratios of the isotopes of nitrogen and sulphur in particular, can show whether such fish consumption was an occasional treat or part of the staple diet. /

“The isotopic analysis of the diet of one of the earliest modern humans in Asia, the 40,000 year old skeleton from Tianyuan Cave near Beijing, has shown that at least this individual was a regular fish consumer. Michael Richards of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology explains “Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of the human and associated faunal remains indicate a diet high in animal protein, and the high nitrogen isotope values suggest the consumption of freshwater fish.” To confirm this inference the researchers measured the sulphur isotope values of terrestrial and freshwater animals around the Zhoukoudian area and of the Tianyuan human. /

“Since fish appeared on the menu of modern humans before consistent evidence for effective fishing gear appeared, fishing at this level must have involved considerable effort. This shift to more fish in the diet likely reflects greater pressure from an expanding population at the time of modern human emergence across Eurasia. “This analysis provides the first direct evidence for the consumption of aquatic resources by early modern humans in China and has implications for early modern human subsistence and demography”, says Richards.” /

Unusual 11,500-Year-old Humans Found in Guanxi

Jill Neimark wrote in Discover: “Remains unearthed in 1979 in a cave in China’s Guangxi Province may belong to a previously unknown, anatomically unique modern human species. Neglected until a team of Australian and Chinese scientists decided to take a closer look, the remains are between 11,500 and 14,500 years old, says Darren Curnoe, a paleoanthropologist at the University of New South Wales who interpreted the find. Curnoe nicknamed the bones the Red Deer Cave people; he and his colleagues compared them with modern and contemporary human remains from Asia, Australia, Europe, and Africa, as well as with Pleistocene East Asian hunter-gatherer skulls. The Pleistocene age lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago. [Source: Jill Neimark, Discover, December 17, 2013]

“The Red Deer specimens have an unusual short, flat face, prominent browridges, and no human chin,” Curnoe says. They could be related to very early Homo sapiens that evolved in Africa and then migrated out to Asia. Or, as Curnoe believes, they might represent a new human species that evolved in parallel with Homo sapiens. If he is correct, we shared the planet with other human species right up to the dawn of agriculture.

“Some experts, however, reject both explanations. “These specimens should have been compared to early Holocene skeletons from China,” because they look much the same, contends paleoanthropologist Peter Brown, from the University of New England in Australia. The Holocene era began just as the Pleistocene era ended. Curnoe counters, however, that the key comparison is with Pleistocene East Asian skulls and recent hunter-gatherer and agricultural populations.”

Paleolithic China

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “After the period of the Peking Man there comes a great gap in our knowledge. All that we know indicates that at the time of the Peking Man there must have been a warmer and especially a damper climate in North China and Inner Mongolia than today. Great areas of the Ordos region, now dry steppe, were traversed in that epoch by small rivers and lakes beside which men could live. There were elephants, rhinoceroses, extinct species of stag and bull, even tapirs and other wild animals. [Source: A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard (1909-1989), University of California, Berkeley, Project Gutenberg Ebook gutenberg.org]

“About 50,000 B.C. there lived by these lakes a hunting people whose stone implements (and a few of bone) have been found in many places. The implements are comparable in type with the palaeolithic implements of Europe (Mousterian type, and more rarely Aurignacian or even Magdalenian). They are not, however, exactly like the European implements, but have a character of their own. We do not yet know what the men of these communities looked like, because as yet no indisputable human remains have been found. All the stone implements have been found on the surface, where they have been brought to light by the wind as it swept away the loess. These stone-age communities seem to have lasted a considerable time and to have been spread not only over North China but over Mongolia and Manchuria.

“It must not be assumed that the stone age came to an end at the same time everywhere. Historical accounts have recorded, for instance, that stone implements were still in use in Manchuria and eastern Mongolia at a time when metal was known and used in western Mongolia and northern China. Our knowledge about the palaeolithic period of Central and South China is still extremely limited; we have to wait for more excavations before anything can be said. Certainly, many implements in this area were made of wood or more probably bamboo, such as we still find among the non-Chinese tribes of the south-west and of South-East Asia. Such implements, naturally, could not last until today.

“About 25,000 B.C. there appears in North China a new human type, found in upper layers in the same caves that sheltered Peking Man. This type is beyond doubt not Mongoloid, and may have been allied to the Ainu, a non-Mongol race still living in northern Japan. These, too, were a palaeolithic people, though some of their implements show technical advance. Later they disappear, probably because they were absorbed into various populations of central and northern Asia. Remains of them have been found in badly explored graves in northern Korea."

Polished Stone Tools in China

The earliest polished stone tools in China, dated to 24,000-22,000 years ago, were found at the Bailiandong site in southern China. They include axes, adzes, cutters with polished blades. But these only had polished blades. Fully polished stone tools would appear only thousands of years later (Source: “Early polished stone tools in South China evidence of transition from Palaeolithic to Neolithic“, “UDK 903(510)633/634?Documenta Praehistorica XXXI).

Stone tools of Southern China have been broken down into three stages of development: 1) blade polished only; 2) entire tool finely ground with blade polished; 3) entirely polished. The oldest polished tools in the world were discovered in Japan. See Japan, History.

To read more about the transition from the Paleolithic to Neolithic Bailiandong culture in Southern China, see “C AMS dating the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic of Southern China,” by SixunYuan et al. According to a report, inhabitants of the Xiaohexi site, in Inner Mongolia, the earliest prehistoric settlement in the northeast, knew how to make polished stone tools 8,500 years ago.[Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

biface ax

Microblades Linked with Mobile Adaptations in North-Central China

In 2013, Phys.org reported: “Though present before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, around 24,500–18,300 years ago), microblade technology is uncommon in the lithic assemblages of north-central China until the onset of the Younger Dryas (YD, around 12,900–11,600 years ago). Dr. GAO Xing, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his team discussed the origins, antiquity, and function of microblade technology by reviewing the archaeology of three sites with YD microlithic components, Pigeon Mountain (QG3) and Shuidonggou Locality 12 (SDG12) in Ningxia Autonomous Region, and Dadiwan in Gansu Providence, suggesting the rise of microblade technology during Younger Dryas in the north-central China was connected with mobile adaptations organized around hunting, unlike the previous assumption that they served primarily in hunting weaponry. Researchers reported online in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. [Source: Phys.org, June 13, 2013 ==]

“The late Pleistocene featured two severe, cold–dry climatic downturns, the Last Glacial Maximum and Younger Dryas that profoundly affected human adaptation in North China. During the LGM archaeological evidence for human occupation of northern China is scant and North China’s earliest blade-based lithic industry, the Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) flat-faced core-and-blade technology best known from Shuidonggou Locality 1 (SDG1) on the upper Yellow River, was replaced by a bipolar percussion technology better suited to lower quality but more readily available raw material. ==

“Researchers presented evidence that the initial rise in microblade use in North China occurs after 13,000 years ago, during the YD, from three key sites in west-central northern China: Dadiwan, Pigeon Mountain and Shuidonggou Locality 12 (SDG12). In this region composite microblade tools are more commonly knives than points. These data suggest the rise of microblade technology in Younger Dryas north-central China was mainly the result of microblades used as insets in composite knives needed for production of sophisticated cold weather clothing needed for a winter mobile hunting adaptation like the residentially mobile pattern termed ”serial specialist.” Limited time and opportunities compressed this production into a very narrow seasonal window, putting a premium on highly streamlined routines to which microblade technology was especially well-suited. ==

“It has been clear for some time that while microblades may have been around in north-central China since at least the LGM, they become prominent (i.e., chipped stone technology becomes ”microlithic”) only much later, with the YD. This sequence suggests a stronger connection between microblades and mobility than between microblades and hunting. If microblades were only (or mainly) for edging weapons, their rise to YD dominance would suggest an equally dramatic rise in hunting, making it difficult to understand why a much more demanding microblade technology would develop to facilitate the much less important pre-YD hunting. In any event, the SDG12 assemblage is at odds with the idea of a hunting shift. No more or less abundant than in pre-YD assemblages (e.g., QG3), formal plant processing tools suggest a continued dietary importance of YD plants, and there is no evidence for hunting of a sort that would require microblade production (i.e., of weaponry insets) on anything like the scale in which they occur. A shift to serial specialist provides a better explanation. ==

“Serial specialists are frequently forced to accomplish significant amounts of craftwork in relatively short periods of time. Microblade technology is admirably suited to such streamlined mass-production, and this is exactly what the SDG12 record indicates. The intensity with which SDG12 was used and the emphasis on communal procurement suggests a fairly short-term occupation by groups that probably operated independently during the rest of the year, almost certainly during the winter. SDG12 was most likely occupied immediately before that in connection with a seasonal ”gearing up” for winter, perhaps equivalent to the ethnographically recorded “sewing camps” of the Copper Inuit and Netsilik Inuit. ==

Yi Mingjie of the IVPP, one of the authors of the study, said: “Our study indicates that YD hunter-gatherers of north-central China were serial specialists, more winter mobile than their LGM predecessors, because LGM hunter-gatherers lacked the gear needed for frequent winter residential mobility, winter clothing in particular, and microblade or microlithic technology was central to the production of this gear. Along with general climatic amelioration associated with the Holocene, increasing sedentism after 8000 years ago diminished the importance of winter travel and the microlithic technology needed for the manufacture of fitted clothing.” ==

Dr. Robert L. Bettinger of the University of California – Davis, another author said: “We do not argue that microblades were not used as weapon insets (clearly they were), or that microblade technology did not originally develop for this purpose (clearly it might have). We merely argue that the YD ascendance of microblade technology in north-central China is the result of its importance in craftwork essential to a highly mobile, serial specialist lifeway, the production of clothing in particular. While microblades were multifunctional, this much is certain: of the very few microblade-edged tools known from north-central China all are knives, none are points. If microblades were mainly for weapons it should be the other way around”,

Bamboo Tools: Why There’s a Scarcity of Stone Tools in East Asia?

Kathleen Tibbetts of SMU wrote: “The long-held theory that prehistoric humans in East Asia crafted tools from bamboo was devised to explain a lack of evidence for advanced prehistoric stone tool-making processes. But can complex bamboo tools even be made with simple stone tools? A new study suggests the “bamboo hypothesis” is more complicated than conceived, says SMU archaeologist Metin I. Eren. [Source: Kathleen Tibbetts, Southern Methodist University (SMU), April 12, 2011 |::|]

“Research until now has failed to address a fundamental question: Is it even possible to make complex bamboo tools with simple stone tools? Now an experimental archaeological study – in which a modern-day flint knapper replicated the crafting of bamboo knives – confirms that it is possible to make a variety of bamboo tools with the simplest stone tools. |::|

“However, rather than confirming the long-held “bamboo hypothesis,” the new research shows there’s more to the theory, says Eren, the expert knapper who crafted the tools for the study.

The researchers found that crudely knapped stone choppers made from round rock “cobbles” performed remarkably well for chopping down bamboo. In addition, bamboo knives were efficiently crafted with stone tools. While the knives easily cut meat, they weren’t effective at cutting animal hides, however, possibly discouraging their use during the Stone Age, say the authors. Some knives made from a softer bamboo species entirely failed to produce and hold a sharp edge. |::|

“The ‘bamboo hypothesis’ has been around for quite awhile, but was always represented simply, as if all bamboo species, and bamboo tool-making were equal,” says Eren, a doctoral candidate in anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. “Our research does not debunk the idea that prehistoric people could have made and used bamboo implements, but instead suggests that upon arriving in East and Southeast Asia they probably did not suddenly start churning out all of their tools on bamboo raw materials either.” |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University;; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated August 2021

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