A groundbreaking discovery was made by a team of scientists, led by Liu Wu and Wu Xiujie from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They reported finding the first-ever Middle Pleistocene human skull in southeastern China, shedding light on the variation and continuity in early Asian humans. The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on April 30.
The excavations in Middle Pleistocene cave deposits in southeastern China yielded a remarkably well-preserved skull, displaying morphological similarities to other East Asian Middle and Late Pleistocene archaic human remains. Interestingly, it also showed features that foreshadow later modern human forms.
Human evolution in East Asia during the Pleistocene is often based on fragmented and scattered fossil evidence, making it challenging to evaluate the patterns of archaic human evolution and the emergence of modern humans in the region.
The recent discovery, led by Wu Xiujie and his colleagues, included a significant portion of a skull and associated remains dating back to around 300,000 years ago. These Hualong Cave (Hualongdong) fossils complement the features of other East Asian remains, providing evidence of a continuity of form from the Middle Pleistocene into the Late Pleistocene.
Notably, the skull exhibited a low and wide braincase with a projecting brow, but a less prominent midface, as well as an incipient chin. The teeth showed a simpler form compared to other archaic East Asian fossils, and the third molar was either reduced in size or absent. This discovery brings valuable insights into the early human history of East Asia and adds to our understanding of human evolution in the region.
The authors of the study noted that the newly discovered remains not only contribute to our understanding of the expected variation among Middle Pleistocene humans, as they combine features seen in other individuals from the same era, but they also offer insights into the future developments observed in modern humans. These findings provide evidence supporting regional continuity in human evolution.
Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences