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The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China

Abstract

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 lacking1,2,3,4. 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 Europe5,6,7. 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.

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Figure 1: Geographical location and stratigraphy of the Daoxian site.
Figure 2: Daoxian human teeth (selection).
Figure 3: Metric comparison of Daoxian teeth.

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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 Spanish Ministerio de Educación 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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Authors

Contributions

X.-J.W., W.L. and M.M.-T. are the corresponding authors and have contributed equally to this work. X.-J.W. and W.L. are directing the Daoxian research project. W.L., M.M.-T., S.X., X.-J.W. and J.M.B.d.C. performed the anthropological study of the Daoxian human teeth. Y.-J.C. and S.-W.P. conducted the geological studies of the Daoxian site. Y.-J.C., R.L.E. and H.C. conducted the U–Th dating of the speleothem and stalagmite samples collected from the cave. M.J.S. conducted the palaeomagnetic analysis. X.-H.W. conducted the radiocarbon dating. H.-W.T. conducted the study of the faunal remains. X.-J.W., X.-X.Y., Y.-Y.L., W.L., Y.-J.C., H.-W.T. and S.-W.P. participated in the field research.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Wu Liu, María Martinón-Torres or Xiu-jie Wu.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 The Daoxian site.

a, Entrance to the Fuyan (Daoxian) Cave. b, Image of the intact flowstone in an unexcavated area. c, Detail of the excavation at region IIC. Pink flags point to in situ human findings. dg, Detail of the stratigraphy of region IIA (d), IIB (e), IIC (f) and IID (g). In the centre, plan view of the excavation area at the Daoxian Cave. The enlarged area shows the individual location of each human tooth. Lower pictures provide a detail of the location of each dating sample. FYS, speleothem fragment samples; FYS-S, stalagmite samples. For more details on the U-series results, see Table 1 and Supplementary Information E.

Extended Data Figure 2 Daoxian upper teeth.

Please see Extended Data Table 2 for detailed information. b, buccal; d, distal; l, lingual; m, mesial; o, occlusal.

Extended Data Figure 3 Daoxian lower teeth.

Please see Extended Data Table 2 for detailed information.

Extended Data Figure 4 Palaeomagnetic and rock-magnetic analysis of Daoxian flowstone.

a, Location of the orientated handsamples. White arrow indicates sample D1, black arrow indicates sample D2. b, Zijderveld diagram of alternating field demagnetized specimen D1A. Numbers next to the graph denote alternating field step in mT. c, Isothermal remanent magnetization (IRM) acquisition curve up to 1T for specimens D1A and D2D. d, Progressive stepwise thermal demagnetization of an IRM up to 1T of specimen D1A. e, Projection of virtual geomagnetic pole (VGP) of sample D1 with associated α95. f, Summary table of the thermal (TH), alternating field (AF), and hybrid (both AF and TH) palaeomagnetic results. ID# denotes sample identification. A, anchored; DEC, declination of characteristic remanent magnetization (ChRM) direction; demag, demagnetization; INC, inclination of ChRM direction; MAD, maximum angular deviation; NA, not anchored; NRM, natural remanent magnetization; Q, quality index of ChRM direction, with 1 the highest quality and 2 the lowest; VGP, virtual geomagnetic pole latitude. AF/Tinf, lowest AF level or temperature step of ChRM in mT or °C; AF/Tsup, highest AF level or temperature step of ChRM in mT or °C.

Extended Data Figure 5 Metric comparison of Daoxian teeth.

Bivariate plots of the mesiodistal (MD) and buccolingual (BL) diameters of C1, P3, M1, M2, M3, I2, M1 and M3 of Daoxian and comparative samples.

Extended Data Figure 6 Morphological comparison of Daoxian teeth.

Comparative morphology of the Daoxian human teeth with other Pleistocene hominins and modern humans. Top left, upper canines. I, V: Daoxian (DX37); II, VI: Xujiayao (PA1480); III, VII: Huanglong Cave; IV, VIII: modern human. Bottom left: upper third premolars. I, II, III: Daoxian (DX13, DX 29, DX42); IV: modern human; V: Chaoxian; VI: Changyang (PA76); VII: Panxian Dadong (PA1577); VIII: Xujiayao (PA1480). Top right, upper first molars. I: Daoxian (DX28); II: Neanderthal (Petit-Puymoyen Mx6); III: Qafzeh 5; IV: Tubo (PA1471); V: Hexian (PA836); VI: Chaoxian; VII: Xujiayao (PA1480); VIII: modern human. Middle right, lower second molars. I: Daoxian (DX30); II: Neanderthal (Hortus IV); III: Dolni Vestonice (DV37); IV: Huanglong Cave; V: Xintai; VI: modern human. Bottom right, upper third molars. I, IV: Daoxian (DX17), II, VII: Xujiayao; III, VIII: Huanglong Cave; IV, IX: Tubo (PA1476); V, X: modern humans.

Extended Data Table 1 List of faunal composition at Daoxian and other Late Pleistocene localities of southern China
Extended Data Table 2 List and measurements of Daoxian teeth
Extended Data Table 3 Comparative material
Extended Data Table 4 Upper first molar relative cusp and occlusal polygon areas

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Information sections A-H and Supplementary References. (PDF 343 kb)

Supplementary Information

This file contains a virtual tour through the Daoxian cave to complement the stratigraphic explanations. (PDF 4876 kb)

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Liu, W., Martinón-Torres, M., Cai, Yj. et al. The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China. Nature 526, 696–699 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature15696

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