Modern humans were living in what is now China 45,000 years ago
Modern humans were living in what is now China by 45,000 years ago. The finding means our species reached the area thousands of years earlier than generally thought, possibly via a northerly route through modern-day Siberia and Mongolia.
A team co-led by Francesco d’Errico at the University of Bordeaux in France re-examined an archaeological site called Shiyu in northern China. It was originally excavated in 1963 during the unrest of China’s cultural revolution. The excavators found over 15,000 stone artefacts and thousands of animal bones. There was also a single piece of hominin skull, which anthropologist Woo Ru-Kang identified as a modern human (Homo sapiens).
Untangling human ancestry is a complicated business, and recent research has indicated the human family tree is much more bushy and less linear than the traditional “Out of Africa” narrative, which suggested modern humans originated in Africa and made their first successful migration to the rest of the world in a single wave between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago.
Many different ancient hominins existed and coexisted before Homo sapiens emerged as the lone survivor, and there was interbreeding between different groups of early humans. Some of these groups – like Neanderthals – are easily identified through the fossil record and archaeological remains, but others – like the Denisovans – have been largely identified by their genetic legacy. One of the main factors supporting the idea that early modern humans left Africa around 50,000 years ago is that there is a strong signal in the genes of present-day human populations.
The Shiyu discoveries challenge conventional beliefs about the dispersal of Homo sapiens populations. The advanced cultural behaviors and technological innovations observed in the toolkit, shaped graphite disc, and long-distance transfer of obsidian underscore the complexity of early human populations in North China around 45,000 years ago.