Ancient site may be location of oldest known human fossils in China

An international team of researchers has authored a study claiming to have discovered what is possibly the oldest existing human fossil in China.

Researchers from the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) in Spain, part of a team of Chinese, Spanish and French scientists, have just published the study on what is perhaps the oldest human fossil. known in the country.

Researchers used X-ray microcomputer tomography techniques, geometric morphometry and classical morphology to investigate the remains of the upper jaw and five cranial teeth from the Chinese site of Gongwangling.

Researchers used X-ray microcomputer tomography techniques, geometric morphometry and classical morphology to investigate the remains of the upper jaw and five cranial teeth from the Chinese site of Gongwangling.
Xing Song, CENIEH/Zenger

The researchers said in a CENIEH statement released on Monday: “This deposit is located in the vast plains on the northern slopes of the Quinling Mountains in Shaanxi Province, central China, and was discovered in 1963 by the scientist Woo Ju Kang.

“The age of the site was reassessed in 2015 through paleomagnetism studies in the area. The data suggests that the Gongwangling remains date to just over 1.6 million years ago, so they could belong to one of the first humans to colonize the current state of China.”

According to the study, there are similarities between the teeth of Gongwangling and those of other more recent Chinese sites of Meipu and Quyuan River Mouth. But they added that there was also “some variability, which suggests some diversity in the populations of homo erectus who colonized Asia in the Pleistocene.”

The Pleistocene or ice age lasted from 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago and was noted for several advances and retreats of continental glaciers.

Hominid Australopithecus afarensis
An international team of researchers has authored a study claiming to have discovered what is possibly the oldest existing human fossil in China. In this photo, a sculptor’s rendering of the hominid Australopithecus afarensis is shown as part of an exhibit that includes the 3.2 million-year-old fossilized remains of ‘Lucy’, the oldest example complete species, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, August 28, 2007, in Houston, Texas.
Dave Einsel/Getty Images

The CENIEH press release also states: “The importance of this new work lies in the paucity of information on the early colonization of Asia. The site of Dmanisi (Republic of Georgia) has provided very important evidence on the first inhabitants of Asia, who arrived from Africa. about two million years ago.

Reconstruction of a prehistoric caveman
Portrait of a reconstruction of a prehistoric caveman at the Chicago Field Museum.
Henry Guttmann Collection/Hulton Archives/Getty Images

“But a lot of information is missing to link Dmanisi to the classic homo erectus populations of China (Hexian, Yiyuan, Xichuan or Zhoukoudian), who lived on this great landmass between 400,000 and 800,000 years ago.”

José María Bermúdez de Castro, coordinator of the paleobiology program at CENIEH, is quoted as saying: “The site of Gongwangling fills in this enormous period and suggests that Asia could have been populated by successive populations of the homo erectus species at different epochs of the Pleistocene.”

The press release also specifies that the Gongwangling skull “has all the characteristics described in Homo erectus: low and very elongated skull, with very thick bones, which protected a brain of approximately 780 cubic centimeters; strongly inclined forehead, with very marked eyebrow arches and forming a sort of double-arched visor above the eyes […].”

The study is published in the July 2022 edition of the Journal of Human Evolution. It was written by Lei Pan, Clement Zanolli, Maria Martinon-Torres, Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, Laura Martin-Frances, Song Xing and Wu Liu.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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