The presumption of a late appearance of AMH in eastern Asia has been largely prompted by a remarkable yet dubious ‘gap’ between 100 and 40 ka ago lacking any human fossils, specifically between the latest archaic H. sapiens (i.e., Xujiayao, 104–125 ka and Maba, 129–135 ka) and the earliest modern H. sapiens (i.e., Ziyang, 35-40 ka) (data pooled from Wu and Poirier, 1995). In addition, genetic studies of present-day Chinese populations have supported the late appearance of AMH in eastern Asia (e.g., Chu et al., 1998). From this perspective, the AMH fossils from Tianyuan Cave at Zhoukoudian in northern China, dated to 39-42 ka B.P. (Before Present), have been readily accepted as the earliest representatives of modern H. sapiens in China, and the earliest evidence for the influx of African genes into the indigenous population (e.g., Shang et al., 2007; Cartmill and Smith, 2009; Endicott et al., 2009).
However, the credibility of this supposed ~60 ka gap in the hominin fossil record and a late appearance of modern humans in China might have been compromised by the exclusion of a number of hominin fossils claimed to represent AMH from various limestone caves in southern China with more ancient dates, including Liujiang (between 68 and 153 ka, and most probably between 111 and 139 ka, Shen et al., 2002b), Ganqian (94–220 ka, Shen et al., 2002a), Bailiandong (>160 ka, Shen et al., 2001b), and Zhirendong (>100 ka, Liu et al., 2010a) in Guangxi. Based on our work on the sites of H. erectus and of both archaic and modern H. sapiens over the past twenty plus years, we argue that the temporal framework in China has been artificially ‘compressed and gapped,’ meaning that due to limitations in previous dating techniques and practices, the ages of Chinese hominin fossils have been significantly postdated (compressed), and that a temporal gap between archaic H. sapiens and AMH has been artificially created (gapped). To this scenario of the possible early presence of modern humans in China, here we report evidence from Huanglong Cave, a recently discovered Late Pleistocene hominin fossil- and stone artifact-bearing site, and discuss its impact on the mode of recent human evolution in eastern Asia.I guess a lot depends on whether these teeth are accepted as belonging to AMH; if this holds, the early range of AMH must need to be extended even further east.
Such early dates are often seen as conflicting with the molecular clock (e.g., West and East Eurasians don't appear to have diverged ~100 thousand years ago no matter what assumptions about mutation rate one makes). But, we should not forget that divergence times can be suppressed either due to (i) admixture between the divergent populations, or (ii) due to an expansion of a highly successful population.
Journal of Human Evolution doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2013.05.002
Mass spectrometric U-series dating of Huanglong Cave in Hubei Province, central China: Evidence for early presence of modern humans in eastern Asia
Guanjun Shen et al.
Most researchers believe that anatomically modern humans (AMH) first appeared in Africa 160-190 ka ago, and would not have reached eastern Asia until ∼50 ka ago. However, the credibility of these scenarios might have been compromised by a largely inaccurate and compressed chronological framework previously established for hominin fossils found in China. Recently there has been a growing body of evidence indicating the possible presence of AMH in eastern Asia ca. 100 ka ago or even earlier. Here we report high-precision mass spectrometric U-series dating of intercalated flowstone samples from Huanglong Cave, a recently discovered Late Pleistocene hominin site in northern Hubei Province, central China. Systematic excavations there have led to the in situ discovery of seven hominin teeth and dozens of stone and bone artifacts. The U-series dates on localized thin flowstone formations bracket the hominin specimens between 81 and 101 ka, currently the most narrow time span for all AMH beyond 45 ka in China, if the assignment of the hominin teeth to modern Homo sapiens holds. Alternatively this study provides further evidence for the early presence of an AMH morphology in China, through either independent evolution of local archaic populations or their assimilation with incoming AMH. Along with recent dating results for hominin samples from Homo erectus to AMH, a new extended and continuous timeline for Chinese hominin fossils is taking shape, which warrants a reconstruction of human evolution, especially the origins of modern humans in eastern Asia.