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First Humans: Ancient Site Could Be Location Of Oldest Known Early Human Fossils In China

Researchers from CENIEH have just published the study on what is possibly the oldest known human fossil in the country.

An international team of researchers has authored a study claiming that they may have discovered what is possibly the oldest human fossil in existence in China.

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

The researchers used X-ray micro-computed tomography techniques, geometric morphometry, and classical morphology to investigate the remains of the upper jaw and five skull teeth from the Chinese site of Gongwangling.

The researchers said in a CENIEH statement released on Monday, June 13: “This deposit is located in the vast plains located 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 region. The data suggests that the remains of Gongwangling date from a little 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 Gongwangling teeth and those of the other, more recent Chinese sites of Meipu and Quyuan River Mouth. But they added that there was also “some variability, which suggests a certain diversity of the populations of Homo erectus that colonized Asia during 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.

A sculptor’s rendering of the hominid Australopithecus afarensis is displayed as part of an exhibition that includes the 3.2 million year old fossilized remains of “Lucy”, the most complete example of the species, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, August 28, 2007 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images)

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

“But much information is lacking to connect Dmanisi with the classical 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, the coordinator of the CENIEH Palaeobiology Program, is quoted as saying: “The Gongwangling site fills in this enormous time span and suggests that Asia could have been populated by successive populations of the Homo erectus species at different times in the Pleistocene.”

Portrait of a reconstruction of a pre-historic cave man, at the Chicago Field Museum. (Photo by Henry Guttmann Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The statement also said 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 about 780 cubic centimeters; strongly inclined frontal, with very marked superciliary arches and forming a kind of double-arched visor above the eyes […].”

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

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