Human history rewrite?: Ancient Teeth China

Published: October 17, 2015

Human history rewrite?: Ancient Teeth China, Teeth from a cave in south China show that Homo sapiens reached China around 100,000 years ago – a time at which most researchers had assumed that our species had not trekked far beyond Africa.

“This is stunning, it’s major league,” says Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, UK who was not involved in the research. “It’s one of the most important finds coming out of Asia in the last decade.”

Limestone caves pockmark Daoxian County in Hunan Province, China. Recent excavations of a cave system there extending over 3 square kilometres discovered 47 human teeth, as well as the remains of hyenas, extinct giant pandas and dozens of other animal species. The researchers found no stone tools; it is likely that humans never lived in the cave and their remains were instead hauled in by predators.

The teeth are unquestionably those of H. sapiens, says María Martinón-Torres, a palaeoanthropologist at University College London who co-led the study with colleagues Wu Liu and Xie-jie Wu at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing. Their small size, thin roots and flat crowns are typical for anatomically modern humans – H. sapiens – and the overall shape of the teeth is barely distinguishable from those of both ancient and present-day humans. The team report their results in Nature today1.

Determining the age of the teeth proved tricky. They contained no radioactive carbon (which has almost vanished after 50,000 years). So the team dated various calcite deposits in the cave and used the assortment of animal remains to deduce that the human teeth were probably between 80,000 and 120,000 years old.


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