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New evidence on the earliest human presence at high northern latitudes in northeast Asia

Abstract

The timing of early human dispersal to Asia is a central issue in the study of human evolution. Excavations in predominantly lacustrine sediments at Majuangou, Nihewan basin, north China, uncovered four layers of indisputable hominin stone tools. Here we report magnetostratigraphic results that constrain the age of the four artefact layers to an interval of nearly 340,000 yr between the Olduvai subchron and the Cobb Mountain event. The lowest layer, about 1.66 million years old (Myr), provides the oldest record of stone-tool processing of animal tissues in east Asia. The highest layer, at about 1.32 Myr, correlates with the stone tool layer at Xiaochangliang1, previously considered the oldest archaeological site in this region. The findings at Majuangou indicate that the oldest known human presence in northeast Asia at 40° N is only slightly younger than that in western Asia2,3. This result implies that a long yet rapid migration from Africa, possibly initiated during a phase of warm climate, enabled early human populations to inhabit northern latitudes of east Asia over a prolonged period.

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Figure 1: Location of the Majuangou and Haojiatai sections in the Nihewan basin.
Figure 2: Lithostratigraphy and magnetostratigraphy and correlation with the geomagnetic polarity timescale (GPTS)9.
Figure 3: Stone artefacts and modified bones from Majuangou.

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Acknowledgements

We thank R. J. Enkin for providing palaeomagnetic software. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Chinese Academy of Sciences. R.P. was supported by the US National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Human Origins Program. K.A.H. also received support from the US National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to R. X. Zhu or R. Potts.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

A set of pictures showing the landscape of the Nihewan Basin, two sampling sections and two wells dug for magnetostratigraphic sampling. (JPG 329 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

A picture showing an overview of the oldest excavated archaeological stratum at Majuangou, MJG-III, with in situ stone artefacts and fossilized bones preserved on an animal-trampled surface. (JPG 126 kb)

Supplementary Figure 3

A picture taken from the archaeological excavation stratum, MJG-III, showing the spatial association between stone artefacts and the large ribs of a partial elephant skeleton (Elephas sp.). (JPG 80 kb)

Supplementary Figure 4

A figure showing the orthogonal projections of representative stepwise thermal demagnetization of the natural remanent magnetization (NRM). (PDF 138 kb)

Supplementary Figure 5

A set of figures showing the thermomagnetic curves, Day plot and anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility (AMS). (JPG 99 kb)

Supplementary Methods

A file introducing the rock magnetic methods used in this paper and their major results. (DOC 25 kb)

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Zhu, R., Potts, R., Xie, F. et al. New evidence on the earliest human presence at high northern latitudes in northeast Asia. Nature 431, 559–562 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02829

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