The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China

Wu Liu, María Martinón-Torres, Yan Jun Cai, Song Xing, Hao Wen Tong, Shu Wen Pei, Mark Jan Sier, Xiao Hong Wu, R. Lawrence Edwards, Hai Cheng, Yi Yuan Li, Xiong Xin Yang, José María Bermúdez De Castro, Xiu Jie Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

189 Scopus citations


The hominin record from southern Asia for the early Late Pleistocene epoch is scarce. Well-dated and well-preserved fossils older than ∼45,000 years that can be unequivocally attributed to Homo sapiens are lacking. Here we present evidence from the newly excavated Fuyan Cave in Daoxian (southern China). This site has provided 47 human teeth dated to more than 80,000 years old, and with an inferred maximum age of 120,000 years. The morphological and metric assessment of this sample supports its unequivocal assignment to H. sapiens. The Daoxian sample is more derived than any other anatomically modern humans, resembling middle-to-late Late Pleistocene specimens and even contemporary humans. Our study shows that fully modern morphologies were present in southern China 30,000-70,000 years earlier than in the Levant and Europe. Our data fill a chronological and geographical gap that is relevant for understanding when H. sapiens first appeared in southern Asia. The Daoxian teeth also support the hypothesis that during the same period, southern China was inhabited by more derived populations than central and northern China. This evidence is important for the study of dispersal routes of modern humans. Finally, our results are relevant to exploring the reasons for the relatively late entry of H. sapiens into Europe. Some studies have investigated how the competition with H. sapiens may have caused Neanderthals' extinction (see ref. 8 and references therein). Notably, although fully modern humans were already present in southern China at least as early as ∼80,000 years ago, there is no evidence that they entered Europe before ∼45,000 years ago. This could indicate that H. neanderthalensis was indeed an additional ecological barrier for modern humans, who could only enter Europe when the demise of Neanderthals had already started.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)696-699
Number of pages4
Issue number7575
StatePublished - Oct 29 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This work has been supported by the grants from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KZZD-EW-03, XDA05130101, GJHZ201314), National Natural Science Foundation of China (41272034, 41302016, 41271229), Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO-ALW 823.01.003), Dirección General de Investigación of the SpanishMinisterio deEducación y Ciencia (CGL2012-38434-C03-02, and Acción Integrada España Francia HF2007-0115), Consejería de Educación de Junta de Castilla y León (CEN074A12-2) and The Leakey Foundation (through the support of G. Getty and D. Crook). We are grateful to several people who have provided access to comparative materials and/or advice in several aspects of the manuscript: R. Blasco, J. Rosell, J. M. Parés, M. Salesa, A. Tarriño, C. Saiz, I. Hershkovitz, A. Vialet, M. A. de Lumley, C. Bernís, J. Rascón and J. Svoboda. We are also grateful to Y.-S. Lou, L.-M. Zhang and P.-P. Wei who participated in the excavations at the Daoxian site.

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