East Asia in the annals of human evolution

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Darren Curnoe argues that recent archaeological finds from East Asia and Southeast Asia hint at fundamental changes in our understanding of human evolution.

East Asia makes a comeback in the human evolution stakes
The Conversation, 22 January 2016

Archaeological discoveries in East Asia over the last decade or so have dramatically rewritten our understanding of human evolution.

But the implications don’t sit easily with many scholars internationally who continue to see Europe and Africa as the heartland of human origins.

For more than 150 years our understanding of human evolution has been largely shaped by the discoveries made in Europe and parts of Africa, like the caves near Johannesburg and the Great Rift Valley on the east of the continent.

Full story here.

Red Deer Cave bones in Southwest China raises new questions about human origins

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Red Deer Cave. Source: Archaeology 20151217

A recent study published in PLOS One analyses the bones from the Red Deer Cave of Yunnan province and suggests that they may belong to a branch of a archaic form of human, or represent multiple colonisation events in the Pleistocene before the arrival of anatomically modern humans.

Red Deer Cave. Source: Popular Archaeology 20151217

Red Deer Cave. Source: Archaeology 20151217

Human Remains from the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition of Southwest China Suggest a Complex Evolutionary History for East Asians
PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031918

The Mystery of Red Deer Cave
Popular Archaeology, 17 December 2015

‘Red Deer Cave people’ bone points to mysterious species of pre-modern human
Science Daily, 17 December 2015

14,000-Year-Old Bone Found in Red Deer Cave Points to Archaic Human Species
Sci News, 18 December 2015

Background
Later Pleistocene human evolution in East Asia remains poorly understood owing to a scarcity of well described, reliably classified and accurately dated fossils. Southwest China has been identified from genetic research as a hotspot of human diversity, containing ancient mtDNA and Y-DNA lineages, and has yielded a number of human remains thought to derive from Pleistocene deposits. We have prepared, reconstructed, described and dated a new partial skull from a consolidated sediment block collected in 1979 from the site of Longlin Cave (Guangxi Province). We also undertook new excavations at Maludong (Yunnan Province) to clarify the stratigraphy and dating of a large sample of mostly undescribed human remains from the site.

Methodology/Principal Findings
We undertook a detailed comparison of cranial, including a virtual endocast for the Maludong calotte, mandibular and dental remains from these two localities. Both samples probably derive from the same population, exhibiting an unusual mixture of modern human traits, characters probably plesiomorphic for later Homo, and some unusual features. We dated charcoal with AMS radiocarbon dating and speleothem with the Uranium-series technique and the results show both samples to be from the Pleistocene-Holocene transition: ∼14.3-11.5 ka.

Conclusions/Significance
Our analysis suggests two plausible explanations for the morphology sampled at Longlin Cave and Maludong. First, it may represent a late-surviving archaic population, perhaps paralleling the situation seen in North Africa as indicated by remains from Dar-es-Soltane and Temara, and maybe also in southern China at Zhirendong. Alternatively, East Asia may have been colonised during multiple waves during the Pleistocene, with the Longlin-Maludong morphology possibly reflecting deep population substructure in Africa prior to modern humans dispersing into Eurasia.

Download the paper here.

Red Deer Cave People: another set of new, old humans

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I’ve been slow in getting this news out which has been floating about a week already. An article in PLoS One discusses a set of human remains from China, dating to about 11,000 years old, containing a mix of modern and archaic hominid traits and may suggest a late-surviving set of archaic hominids, or part of an earlier human migration out of Africa that has been undetected until now.

Human Remains from the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition of Southwest China Suggest a Complex Evolutionary History for East Asians
Darren Curnoe1, Ji Xueping, Andy I. R. Herries, Bai Kanning, Paul S. C. Taçon, Bao Zhende, David Fink, Zhu Yunsheng, John Hellstrom, Luo Yun, Gerasimos Cassis, Su Bing, Stephen Wroe, Hong Shi, William C. H. Parr, Huang Shengmin, Natalie Rogers
PLoS ONE 7(3): e31918. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031918

Human fossils hint at new species
BBC, 14 March 2012

‘Red Deer Cave people’ may be new species of human
The Guardian, 14 March 2012

Mysterious ‘Red-deer Cave people’ fossils found in China
EarthSky, 20 March 2012

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