Selected artefacts found in situ. Credit Zhu et al

Out of Africa and into Asia? Evidence of early man in China

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A sequence of stone tools and artefacts found in China suggests humans may have been there more than 2 million years ago, making it the earliest known evidence for the presence of early humans outside Africa. The 96 stones include flakes, scrapers, and picks, which suggest evidence of tools. They were found along with deer and other animal bone fragments. The stones were found in layers of earth which span almost a million years suggesting early humans may have been in China between 1.3 and 2.1 million years ago.

Journal/conference: Nature

Organisation/s: Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

Funder: This research was supported by the National Basic Research Program of China, projects of NSFC and Projects of Chinese Academy of Sciences

Media Release

From: Springer Nature

Archaeology: Possible evidence for earliest hominin presence in China 

A largely continuous artefact sequence in Shangchen, China, which has been dated to between 1.3 and around 2.1 million years ago, is reported in a paper published online this week in Nature. The findings suggest that there may have been a hominin presence outside Africa earlier than previously thought.

The earliest evidence of hominins outside of Africa comes from Dmanisi, Georgia, where tools and bones of Homo erectus date as far back as 1.85 million years ago. Other early hominin fossils found in China and Java date to between 1.5 and 1.7 million years ago, although there have been persistent claims for evidence of hominin activity that is older than 2 million years.

Zhaoya Zhu and colleagues describe 82 flaked and 14 unflaked stones from the Early Pleistocene found at Shangchen in the Chinese Loess Plateau. Among these stones were cores, flakes, scrapers, points and borers, and picks, which suggest evidence of early tools. The authors also identified two pieces of hammerstones with percussion damage. Excavation around this area revealed core and flake tools along with a lower jaw fragment of a deer, as well as bovid (a cloven-hoofed ruminant mammal)and other fossil bone fragments.

The authors show that this sequence has 17 artefact-bearing layers. The stone artefacts were mostly found in 11 layers, which developed in a warm and wet climate; however, artefacts were found in only six loess layers. Loess is a silt-sized sediment formed by the accumulation of wind-blown dust, indicating a colder and drier climate. The authors suggest that this pattern is consistent with a similar artefact sequence found in Tajikistan. In addition, the authors note that the 17 layers span a long period, about 0.85 million years, and indicate that there may have been repeated, but not necessarily continuous, hominin occupation of the Chinese Loess Plateau between 1.3 and 2.1 million years ago.


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