Early Homo and associated
artefacts from Asia
Fossils of a primitive form of Homo found near the Wu Xia Gorge
of China's Yang tze River shown here appear to be at least 1.9 million years
old, suggesting that Homo erectus was endemic to Asia. Hominids may therefore
have entered Asia around the time of the earliest diversification of the genus
Homo in Africa. Back in Africa, the discovery of a 3-million-year-old
australopithecine jawbone from Chad is the earliest record of an early hominid
outside the Rift Valley, and is a marked westward extension to the 'cradle of
Reprinted from Nature Volume 378 No. 6554 16 November 1995
| Early Homo
and associated artefacts from Asia
Huang Wanpo*, Russell Ciochon†‡, Gu Yumin*, Roy Larick§, Fang
Qiren||, Henry Schwarcz¶, Charles Yonge#, John de Vos¤ & William Rink
* Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Academia Sinica,
Beijing 100044, China
† Departments of Anthropology and Pediatric Dentistry, The University of Iowa,
Iowa City, Iowa 52242, USA
§ Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts
|| Chongqing Museum of Natural History, 72 Loquat Hill Park Street, Chongqing,
Sichuan 630013, China
¶ Department of Geology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L85 4M1, Canada
# Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta
T2N 1N4, Canada
¤ National Museum of Natural History, Post Office Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The
‡ To whom correspondence should be addressed.
The site of Longgupo Cave was discovered in 1984 and excavated in 1985-1988
by the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (Beijing)
and the Chongqing National Museum (Sichuan Province). Important finds include
very archaic hominid dental fragments, Gigantopithecus teeth and primitive
stone tools. Paleomagnetic analysis and the presence of Ailuropoda microta
(pygmy giant panda) suggeste that the hominid- bearing levels dated to the earliest
Pleistocene1. In 1992, joint Chinese-American-Canadian geochronological research
corroborated the age using electron spin resonance (ESR) analysis. We report
here that the hominid dentition and stone tools from Longgupo Cave are comparable
in age and morphology with early representatives of the genus Homo (H.
habilis and H. ergaster) and the Oldowan technology in East Africa.
The Longgupo dentition is demonstrably more primitive than that seen in Asian
Homo erectus. Longgupo’s diverse and well- preserved Plio-Pleistocene
fauna of 116 species provides a sensitive contextual base for interpreting the
early arrival of the genus Homo in Asia.
Longgupo Cave or, as known in Chinese, the ‘Wushan
Hominid Site’ lies 20 km south of the Yangtze River near the eastern border
of Sichuan Province (Fig. 1). The cave infilling comprises two major units:
an upper cave breccia with few fossils, and an underlying poorly cemented fossiliferous
unit with three depositional zones (Fig. 2). The middle zone (excavation layers
2-12) has a clay facies localized along the north and south cave walls in longitudinal
channels 2-3 m wide. Two hominid dental fragments and two stone artefacts derive
from these channels. The middle zone yields 68 mammalian genera including Procynocephalus
and Macaca as well as Gigantopithecus
and Homo1. The presence of Sinomastodon,
Nestoritherium, Equus yunnanensis,
Ailuropoda microta and Cricetinae
indeterminate (with molar structure similar to Sinocricetus
and Nannocricetus) suggests a late Pliocene to
earliest Pliocene age1-3. The occurrence of Mimomys peii
places this zone within the Dachaian (mammal neogene reference level 17 (MN
17)) age of north China (late Pliocene)4,5.
Basic taphonomic observations suggest how the fauna accumulated
within the middle zone channels. About 750 large mammal long bones derive from
the channels, usually without surface erosion and sometimes as complete limb elements.
Many shafts are punctured, split or shattered to indicate processing by Pachycrocuta
or Homotherium, and many long bones were also gnawed,
probably by Hystrix and smaller rodents while fresh.
Pachycrocuta is the most common carnivore at Longgupo,
and numerous hyaenid-sized coprolites suggest the cave occasionally served as
a lair. Two accumulation processes are therefore possible. The large scavengers/carnivores
may have brought carcasses into a horizontal passage, eventually to be interred
by gentle fluvial action. Alternatively, the representation and condition of the
Longgupo fossils also recalls the assemblages from Yanjinggou (about 50 km NW),
where carcasses accumulated in vertival passages, the result of predation and
Longgupo Cave. a, Location in Sichuan Province, Wushan County (109deg 40'
E, 30deg 50' N). b, Regional geology has massive Triassic limestones and
and intercalated sandstones. The primary local geomorphic feature is an
E-W trending syncline that exposes carbonates on its limbs and silicates
within. The limbs are karstic and the consequent drainage forms a polje
around Miao-yu village. Longgupo Cave is a remnant of this drainage that
has been eroding the polje’s southern margin since Miocene times. c, The
cave presents an infilled east-west passage, bi-truncated to leave its floor
130 m long and its vault 25 m long. Vertical passages are also common within
the local complex. Just northwest of the Longgupo site, a lower north-south
passage retains an even shorter vault between two dolines.
Palaeomagnetic data also suggest great antiquity for the middle
zone clay facies where 100 sediment samples were taken in overlapping columns.
Sample natural remanent magnetization was determined after thermal demagnetization
to 700 şC. Sediment at the top of the lower unit is magnetically reversed, indicating
an age of at least 0.78 million years (Myr). There are 7 magnetic reversals between
levels 1 and 20 with magnetic normal sediment sections thinner (about 1-2 m) than
reversed sections (about 3-4 m) (Fig. 2). Thermal demagnetization properties are
similar in normal and reversed sediments, suggesting both remanence types are
of the same (detrital) origin. Although we do not have sufficient rock magnetic
data to exclude completely the possibility that selective remagnetization may
have led to a spurious magnetostratigraphy, we do not believe that this is likely.
We therefore assign the magnetically normal hominid-bearing levels 7-8 to the
Olduvai event that spans the interval 1.96 to 1.78 Myr7,8. A few depositional
breaks (such as the 13/12 boundary) may correspond to lengthy time gaps in which
further reversals could have occurred. Therefore this is a minimum age estimate
for the hominids.
Electron spin resonance (ESR) analysis of tooth enamel
further constrains the age of the middle zone channels. This method has been successfully
applied to fossils older than 2 Myr10,11. From level 4, a large cervid premolar
fragment (recovered within the sediment-filled interior of a long bone) yields
about 400 mg of enamel and dentine, containing 0.85 and 39 p.p.m. uranium, respectively.
External gamma dose-rates were estimated from U, Th and K contents of sediment
adhering outside the long bone; beta dose-rates alone were determined from sediment
within the long bone cavity. Age calculation depends on an assumed uranium uptake
history of the tooth: early uptake gives a minimum age of 0.75±0.09 Myr; a linear
uptake model, which generally has given ages close to independent estimates, yields
1.02±0.12 Myr11. The linear uptake age places the level 4 sediment within the
Matuyama reversed magnetic chron, consistent with the paleomagnetic interpretation
for levels 7-8.
Longgupo Cave stratigraphy and suggested age. The upper sedimentary unit
is a 12-m-thick fossil-poor cave breccia where clasts range to 50 cm x 90
cm within a highly cemented sandy clay. The underlying poorly cemented fossiliferous
unit has three depositional zones excavated in 1 m levels. The upper zone
(within level 1) consists of a few spatially discrete sandy clay lenses
with some gravels and localized areas of calcite concretion. The middle
zone (levels 2-12) has a clay facies localized along the north and south
cave walls in longitudinal channels (2-3 m wide), while a gravel facies
occupies the passage centre. Clast size ranges to 2 cm x 3 cm in the clay
facies and to 10 cm x 20 cm in the gravels with limestone clasts dominating
shale and mudstone. The lower zone (levels 13-20) has primary silts in parallel
horizontal beds that indicate stagnant fluvial or lacustrine deposits.
Within the middle zone channels,
levels 7-8 yield two hominid dental fossils, a fragmentary left mandible (with
P4, M1 and M2 alveolus) and a right upper lateral incisor (Fig. 3). These specimens
were originally described as a new subspecies of Homo erectus,
H. e. wushanensis1, but joint reanalysis demonstrates
morphology different from and sometimes more primitive than Asian H. erectus.
The Longgupo dentition exhibits affinities with representatives of East African
early Pleistocene Homo, including H. ergaster
and H. habilis (Fig. 3 legend). For the mandibular
teeth, relevant features include, for P4: cusp placement and inflection, relationship
between cusps and talonid, and root morphology; and for M1: cusp number and spatial
relationship, enamel surface thickness, and surface texture. Basic dimensions
of the Longgupo mandibular corpus, P4 and M1 (Fig. 3 legend) are very small. These
fall outside the lower range for Zhoukoudian (G1, H1, 29, 30, 34, 89-93, 96-102)12
and Sangiran (1b, 9) specimens13,14, while lying near the lower limit for any
East African Plio-Pleistocene hominine (such as OH 7, OH 13, OH 16, ER 992 and
WT 15000)14-16. I2 crown shape index (BL/LL * 100) also distinguished Longgupo
from Asian H. erectus. The Longgupo index (116)
is quite high compared with Zhoukoudian 6 and 7 (101), but falls within the range
for OH 6, OH 16, OH 39 and ER 1813 (H. habilis)
(96-127 (mean = 109))15. Finally, the shovel-shaped character of the Longgupo
I2 is also found in OH 6 and OH 16 (H. habilis)15,
and WT 15000 (H. ergaster)16 as well as at Zhoukoudian12.
Indeed, Tobias concludes that “shovelling is a virtually universal feature of
all early hominids up to Homo erectus” (p. 614)
Sixteen teeth of Gigantopithecus
blacki come from levels 5-8 (Fig. 2): one C1, three P3, one P3, four P4, three
P4 and four M1-2. In size and morphology the Longgupo teeth match the >900 isolated
teeth from Liucheng Cave, Guangxi, China17,18, where amino-acid racemization measurements
suggest an age greater than 1.2 Myr19. The Longgupo Gigantopithecus
teeth, like those of Liucheng, exhibit high sexual dimorphism, lower molars with
a distinctive accessory internal tubercle between metaconid and entoconid and
very thick enamel (5-6 mm). Nearly all of the roots show evidence of rodent gnawing,
probably by Hystrix. Longgupo marks the northernmost
extent of Gigantopithecus in China. It also represents
the third east Asian cave where Gigantopithecus
and Homo lie within the same stratigraphic interval.
The others are Tham Khuyen Cave, Lang Son, Vietnam dated to 0.475 Myr20, and at
Jianshi Cave, Hubei, Chiona, where the co-occurrence remains undated21. With the
Longgupo date indicating the earliest presently known association, Gigantopithecus
and Homo evidently coexisted for more than 1 Myr
in east Asia.
FIG. 3. Longgupo Cave hominids. a, Left mandible fragment (CV.939.1, level
8), occlusal (top) and lingual views. The mandibular corpus is nearly
complete directly below M1, where the in ferior margin is damaged. The
buccal and lingual faces bulge little and remain parallel as they descend
to the inferior margin. Behind M1, the buccal face begins to thicken.
Below M1, corpus height is 21 mm and width is 13 .5 mm. For the limited
morphology preserved, the Longgupo mandibular corpus is gracile compared
with As ian H. erectus (Zhoukoudian G1, H1; Sangiran 1b, 9)12-14,
and more closely resembles specimens of early Pleistocene East African
Homo such as KNM-WT 15000, KNM-ER 730 (H. ergaster) and
OH 13 (H. habilis)14-16. P4 (mesio- distal (MD) = 7.4, buccal-lingual
(BL) = 9.1): The crown is slightly subcircula r with a buccal-lingual
long axis. No cingulum is present. The cusps are placed mesially and inflected
centrally t o be separated only by a central sagittal groove, while a
long, wide talonid, with no cusps or ridges, occupies t he distal two-thirds
of the tooth. The neck is constricted, and a long robust root bifurcates
for 2/3 of its length . In comparison, the seven Asian H. erectus
P4 from Zhoukoudian (29, 30, 89-93) have an obliquely oval crown with
the greatest diameter running mesio-buccally to distal-lingually, with
distinct buccal and lingual cusps, and with a small talonid having numerous
short accessory ridges and wrinkles. The buccal surface of these teeth
has a well developed cingulum and the root structure shows a single tapering
root that is compressed mesio-dis tally. In the Longgupo P4, the buccal-lingually
expanded crown resembles ER 992 (H. ergaster), the posit ion of
the mesial cusps and large talonid compares with OH 7 and OH 13 (H. habilis),
and the bifid root is like ER 992 (H. ergaster) and to a lesser
extent OH 13 (H. habilis). M1 (MD = 11.0, BL = 10.1): the tooth
is low-crowned and possesses two strong roots and five cusps. In occlusal
view the crown is sub-rectangular with rounded corners. The metaconid
is larger than the entoconid and is the highest cusp. The enamel is relatively
thin and uncrenulated; perforations expose dentine at the protoconid,
hypoconid and hypoconulid. In comparison, the seven in situ M1 of H. erectus,
as well as Black^Rs type specimen (Zhoukoudian 96-102, 34)12 exh ibit
six cusps (including tubercle 6), thickened enamel, cusps covered by wrinkles,
furrows and accessory ridges, and l arger size. The cusp arrangement and
size of the Longgupo M1 may be likened with ER 992 (H. ergast er)
and OH 13 (H. habilis). b, Right I2 (CV.939.2, level 7) labial
(left) and lingual views (x 1.5 the scale of a). This isolated tooth is
complete and unerupted with the root intact (MD = 8.1, labio-lingual (LL)
= 7.0, crown he ight (CH) = 10.3). In lingual view, the mesial and distal
marginal ridges are both high and well defined. A s mall tubercle is present
at the base of the lingual surface where the mesial and distal marginal
ridges converge upwa rd to meet. The lingual surface is concave and quite
shovel-shaped. A central ridge runs from the tubercle to t he occlusal
edge and divides into two branches at the middle of its crown. The labial
surfave is moderately conve x. A mamelonated incisal ridge shows that
the tooth was never in occlusion. The Longgupo I2 differs from Zhouk oudian
6 and 7 (ref. 12) in its significantly lower crown height, less buccal-lingual
expansion of the crown, si gnificantly thicker mesial and distal marginal
ridges, and a less wedge-shaped appearance when viwed from the l ingual
side of the occlusal surface. These features are variably expressed in
the OH 6, 16, 39, ER 1813 (H. habilis)15 and WT 15000 (H. ergaster)16.
Two items from the clay facies show three characteristics of
early stone artefacts (Fig. 4). They have exotic petrological composition (andesite-porphyrite),
they are twice the size of the largest normal deposit clasts, and they exhibit
surface damage inconsistent with natural cause. The closest primary outcrops for
andesite- porphyrite rocks lie 130 km ENE and 150 km NNW. Derived sources occur
within the non-carbonate sediments of the Miao-yu polje, a function of pre-Yangtze
Valley (Pliocene and earlier) fluvial systems. Potential sources are to be found
about 2km downstream from Longgupo, but andesite-porphyrite remains undocumented.
As both objects are more than twice as large as the largest clay facies casts,
fluviatile transport does not explain their presence. Assuming artefact status,
these specimens recall the Oldowan technology of early Pleistocene East Africa22
in two ways. First, they were chosen from the natural environment for inherent
qualities of raw material and morphology and thus used with little modification23.
The andesite-porphyrite raw material is resilient to repeated battering, and both
implements fit within the hand to offer numerous surfaces and edges for use. Second,
the tightly patterned distribution of surface and edge damage indicates deliberate
and consistent gestures of use24. If, eventually, andesite-porphyrite cobbles
prove unavailable within several kilometers of the Longgupo cave site, curation
may distinguish this potentially earliest Asian technology from its African contemporaries.
FIG. 4.Longgupo Cave andesite/porphyrite stone artefacts. a, The elongated,
sph erical cobble (P.6524, level 5) has a heavily weathered cortical surface.
Three relatively discrete areas (left , centre, and right) have reweathered
crushing and pitting. The area at centre has a concentrated pattern of
pits (4m m depth) that suggest repeated battering. b, the lenticular flake
(P.6523, level 8) represents a larger cobble that has split near a natural
waist. The heavily abraded and weathered ventral surface consists of a
few lare scars ( centre). The dorsal surface (left) shows two stages of
weathering: rough, highly pitted areas confined to recesses , and smoother
crests and convexities covering most of the surface. The dorsal surface
recurves onto the ventral surface to indicate the waist in the original
cobble (right). Heavily weathered crest damage occurs (le ft) clockwise
from bottom centre at 0 -85 and at 180 -270 . The dorsal faceting at 270
-350 also has heavy cre st damage.
We have estimated the age of the Longgupo hominid specimens
and artefacts in three ways. The co- occurrence of Sinomastodon,
Nestoritherium, Equus yunnanensis,
Ailuropoda microta and Mimomys
peii place the middle zone clay facies in the late Pliocene and earliest
Pleistocene. Palaeomagnetic data then bracket levels 7-8 within the Olduvai chron,
1.96 to 1.78 Myr. Finally, the ESR determination of 1.02±0.1 Myr, on material
from level 4 (3 m above levels 7-8), constrains and reinforces these interpretations.
The Longgupo specimens are therefore older than any reported for China and at
least as old as Indonesian Homo erectus25. The Longgupo
specimens closely resemble East African fossils representing the earliest species
of the genus Homo. They share few characters in
common with Asian Homo erectus. As their incompleteness
precludes designating a new species, we assign the Longgupo hominids to Homo
species indeterminate, while noting affinities with H. habilis
and H. ergaster. The stone tools are consistent
with this interpretation. Given the early date and primitive morphology for the
Longgupo specimens, and the older age estimates for H. erectus
in Java25, we must recognize more than one Plio-Pleistocene hominid species in
east Asia. The new evidence suggests that hominids entered Asia before 2 Myr,
coincident with the earliest diversification of the genus Homo
in Africa(26,27). Clearly, the first hominid to arrive in asia was a species other
than true H. erectus, and one that possessed a stone-based
technology. A pre-erectus hominid in China as early
as 1.9 Myr provides the most likely antecedents for the in situ evolution of Homo
erectus in Asia27-29.
Notes and References:
Received 12 May; accepted 20 September 1995
- Huang, W. et al. Wushan Hominid Site (Ocean, Beijing
- Wang, L. & Ouyang, L. Vertebr. PalAsiatica 20, 255-263
- Huang, W. Vertebr. PalAsiatica 31, 191-207 (1993).
- Zheng, S. & Li, C. Vertebr. PalAsiatica 24, 81-109
- Zheng, S. Quaternary Rodents of Sichuan-Guizhou Area,
China (Beijing, 1993).
- Matthew, W. D. & Granger, W. Bull. Am. Mus. nat. Hist.
48, 563-598 (1923).
- Colbert, E. D. & Hoojier, D. A. Bull. Am. Mus. nat. Hist.
102, 1-134 (1953).
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- McDougall, I., Brown, F. H., Cerling, T. E. & Hillhouse,
J. W. Geophys. Res. Lett. 19, 2349-2352 (1992).
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26, 175-181 (1994).
- Weidenreich, F. Paleontol. Sinica D1, 1-180 (text);
1-121 (atlas) (1937).
- Rightmire, G. P. The Evolution of Homo erectus (Cambridge
Univ. Press, 1990).
- Wood, B. Koobi Fora Research Project IV: Hominid Cranial
Remains (Clarendon, Oxford, 1991).
- Tobias, P. V. Olduvai Gorge IV: The Skulls, Endocasts
and Teeth of Homo habilis (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991).
- Brown, B. & Walker, A. in The Nariokotome Homo erectus
Skeleton (eds Walker, A. & Leakey, R.) 161- 192 (Harvard Univ.
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Sin. 8, 172-176 (1989).
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- Gao, J. Vertebr. PalAsiatica 13, 81-88 (1975).
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and II, 1960-1963 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1971).
- Harris, J. W. K. Afr. archaeol. Rev. 1, 3-31 (1983).
- Clarke, R. J. World Archaeol. 21, 1-12 (1988).
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- Wood, B. in Species, Species Concepts, and Primate Evolution
(eds Kimbel, W. & Martin, L. B.) 485-522 (Plenum, New York, 1993).
- Wood, B. Nature 355, 783-790 (1992).
- Clarke, R. J. J. hum. Evol. 19, 699-736 (1990).
- Howell, F. C. in Origin of Anatomically Modern Humans
(eds Nitecki, M. H. & Nitecki, D. V.) 253-319 (Plenum, New York, 1994).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. For assistance and permission to conduct research at Longgupo,
we thank the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP),
the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Cultural Relics Bureau, and the
Chongqing Museum of Natural History, Sichuan. We specifically acknowedge Li Chuankuei,
Jia Lanpo, Zhou Shiw, J. Olsen and D. Gifford-Gonzalez. Fieldwork was funded by
the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation. laboratory support has been provided by the Wenner-Gren
Foundation and the Human Evolution Research Fund at the University of Iowa Foundation.
ESR dating was funded by a grant from the NSF. Special thanks to H. Ruíz for composing
Figs. 1 and 2 and to L. González for helpful discussions.
| Out of Africa
and into Asia
Bernard Wood and Alan Turner
Few doubt that Africa was the birthplace of the hominid
lineage, but there is no equivalent consensus about when hominids first moved
out of that continent. Despite the announcement of early dates for a juvenile
Homo erectus from Indonesia1, the circumstances surrounding
the recovery of many of the fossil hominids from the island will always hinder
attempts to date them. Thus the excavation of hominid remains, in combination
with crudely fashioned artefacts in what are claimed to be early Pleistocene deposits
at Longgupo Cave in central China (Huang and co-workers, page 275 of this issue2),
is of major importance. Most notably, the remains lend support to the idea3 that
representatives of the hominid lineage were established in mainland Asia as early
as about 1.9 million years (Myr) ago.
Africa has been the focus for research into human evolutionary
history for the past three decades, but it was not always thus. A century ago,
space in the correspondence column of Nature was
regularly claimed to debate the significance of the finds Eugene Dubois had made,
eginning in 1891, at Trinil in Indonesia. Although initially allocated to Pithecanthropus
erectus, the species distinction of the Trinil hominid has survived
but the genus has long since been sunk into Homo.
Two decades later, excavations were instigated by the
Canadian anatomist Davidson Black in the cave deposits at Choukoutien, now called
Zhoukoudian, and the first of the series of remains of what became known as ‘Peking
Man’ was discovered. Despite being allocated to a new genus and species, their
affinities with the hominids from Trinil, and with similar material that was subsequently
recovered at Sangiran, also in Indonesia, was evident, and the Chinese remains
have also been subsumed within H. erectus. There
have been sporadic attempts to demonstrate both that the hominid remains from
the Indonesian sites are from more than one species4,5,and that they include specimens
that should be allocated to Australopithecus6 or
Paranthropus7, and thus to an earlier, more primitive
phase of hominid evolution. But none of these claims has survived close scrutiny8.
Likewise, until recently there has been little compelling evidence to suggest
that any of the Asian hominid sites were yielding hominids more than one million
The importance of the material from Longgupo Cave is twofold.
Not only does it support an early date for the hominid occupation of Asia, but
the morphological details of the admittedly fragmentary fossil evidence also means
that it may represent not H. erectus but a more primitive
species akin to H. ergaster, thus far known only
Of course, dating the material is crucial to the argument.
Longgupo Cave has several lines of evidence, none of them contradictory. Paleomagnetic
stratigraphy shows a reversed polarity for most of the sediments, with the hominid
fossils and lithic items associated with the lower of two normal events and therefore
referred to the Olduvai magnetic event. The magnetic evidence is broadly supported
by analysis of tooth enamel from the sediments, using electron spin resonance,
which gives a minimum age of 0.75 ± 0.09 Myr based on an early uranium uptake
model. It could be argued that the normal magnetic
event associated with the material is therefore likely to be Jaramillo, but the
associated mammalian fauna is really too archaic and point instead to the earlier
Olduvai event. Of particular interest here is the presence of Nestoritherium,
a genus of the family Chalicotheriidae, an extinct, bizarre, claw-hoofed member
of the Perissodactyla, today represented by tapirs, rhinos and horses.
The lithic items identified as primitive stone tools do
seem to be exotic, and they are notably larger than the rest of the sediments.
They look as much like stone tools as anything of this age ever does, and they
fall into the category of items in finer sediment deposits that, as Gamble9 has
pointed out, tend to categorize genuine archaeological assemblages as opposed
to naturally bashed stones. Moreover, the uneroded state of the bone in clay facies
channels is consistent with primary deposition rather than intrusive burial. But
we are unlikely to be dealing with a site of hominid occupation. The giant hyaena,
Pachycrocuta, is a perfectly plausible agent of accumulation10
(it is less likely that the sabre-toothed Homotherium
did much bone destroying).
The authors draw attention to the presence of Gigantopithecus,
a large, gorilla-like and presumably herbivorous primate, in the same level as
the hominid fossils, and stress that this is the third such co-occurrence at Asian
localities over a time span of some 1 Myr. Such co-occurrences are always intriguing,
but the evidence of hyaena activity reduces the likelihood that Gigantopithecus
was prey to the more advanced hominid. The remaining elements of the mammalian
fauna at Longgupo shed little light on the local environment of the site, although
both woodland and more open-country taxa seem to be represented.
The hominid remains -- part of the left side of an adult
mandible and an isolated upper incisor -- are meagre pickings froma taxonomic
point of view. However, the mandibular fragment includes both the crown and the
root of a premolar tooth (P4), and they provide the best evidence about the affinities
of the material. The crowns of the P4 teeth of H. erectus
are generally relatively simple and the teeth are usually single-rooted, like
those of modern humans. In contrast, the Longgupo P4 root is bifid for most of
its length. This, and other features of the mandible and the dentition, suggest
that the Longgupo hominid may be much more primitive than H. erectus11.
This opens up the possibility that the first hominid to leave Africa was at least
as primitive as H. ergaster12, and implies that H.
erectus may have evolved within Asia and then spread
back into Europe and Africa.
In terms of overall patters of mamalian movement, there
is nothing inherently implausible about the age of the material and the implications
that it holds for human dispersions from Africa. Hominid remains and lithic items
from Dmanisi13 in Georgia point to at least an initial presence at the gates of
Europe by around the same time as the age of the Longgupo evidence. And it is
clear that a Late Pliocene dispersion across Arabia, probably via the Levant,
and perhaps through the Bab-el-Mandab straits, was possible for several mammalian
taxa14,15, while the presence of hominids in the Levant itself by 1.4 Myr ago
is evident at the Israeli site of ‘Ubeidiya14. The new report from Huang et
al. adds weight to other, less well-substantiated claims that hominids
travelled even further, and occupied China in the latest Pleistocene some 1.9
The evidence from Longgupo Cave in China, described by Huang et al.2 and
discussed here, suggests that hominids were established in Asia just after
two million years ago. Given the primitive nature of the premolar teeth,
it seems that the first hominid to occupy Asia may not have been Homo
erectus, but perhaps a variant of H. ergaster or even H. habilis.
Bernard Wood and Alan Turner are in the Department of Human Anatomy and Biology,
The University of Liverpool, PO Box 147, Liverpool L69 3BX, UK.
Notes and references:
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- Huang, W. et al. Nature 378, 275-278 (1995).
- Etler, D. A. & Li, Ti. in Integrative Paths to the Past
(eds Corruccini, R. S. & Ciochon, R. L.) 6390675 (Prentice Hall, New Jersey,
- Jacob, T. in The Origin of the Australians (eds Kirk,
R. L. & Thorn, A. G.) 81-93 (Humanities Press, New Jersey, 1976).
- Sartono, S. in Proc. 1er Congrés International de Paléontologie
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- Robinson, J. T. Am. J. phys. Anthrop. 12, 181-200
- Kramer, A. J. hum. Evol. 26, 3-21 (1994).
- Gamble, C. Nature 369, 275-276 (1994).
- Turner, A. & Anton, M. Geobios (in the press).
- Wood, B. A. et al. J. Anat. 156, 107-139 (1988).
- Wood, B. A. Nature 355, 783-790 (1992).
- Gabunia, L. & Vekua, A. Nature 373, 509-512 (1995).
- Tchernov, E. in Mammalian Migration and Dispersal Events
in the European Quaternary (eds Von Koenigswald, W. & Werdelin, L.) 103-123
Cour. Forschungsinst. Senckenberg 153 (1992).
- Turner, A. Rech. Archéol. l’Université de Ličge 62,