Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

Scientists discover earliest evidence of humans outside Africa

One of the artifacts gets excavated from a layer that is 2.1 million years old. The artifact here is a stone from which three flakes were removed. Credit Zhaoyu Zhu Primitive humans may have left Africa earlier than thought
Jeannette Daniel | 14 July, 2018, 13:47

The team that found the discovery, led Jeou Zhu (Zhu Zhaoyu), a geologist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Archaeologists discovered artifacts that suggest that our earliest human ancestors were in East Asia more than 2,000,000 years ago.

The textbook narrative of human migration has long told us that we first left Africa around 1.85 million years ago.

But more recent discoveries suggest our ancestors had packed their bags and left home way before then.

"On the one hand, you feel excited, because you don't often find artifacts in their original context", said study co-author Robin Dennell, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, referring to the fact that the artifacts had stayed put in the original layer of sediment.

Until now, the oldest evidence of human-like creatures outside the continent came from 1.8 million-year-old artefacts and skulls found in Dmanisi in Georgia.

The Chinese Loess Plateau covers about 270,000 square kilometres, and during the past 2.6m years between 100 and 300m of wind-blown dust - known as loess - has been deposited in the area.

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Experts believe that stone tools unearthed in China are around 270,000 years older than items previously believed to be the earliests evidence of the presence of humans outside Africa.

The artefacts, including a notch, scrapers, cobble, hammer stones and pointed pieces, show signs of use - the stone had been intentionally flaked.

Given the age of the Shangchen artifacts, now the oldest remnants of early human occupation in a territory found outside Africa's borders, the hominins who built them were very primitive and may have actually been small bipedal apes, whose brain size was comparable to that of chimpanzees.

The artefacts are largely made up of chipped flakes of stone - a primitive type of blade - and are believed to have been made by ancient members of the human lineage, called hominins. The majority of them were made from quartzite and quartz rock that is likely to have come from the foothills of the Qinling Mountains, approximately five to 10km from the site of the dig.

Bones of pigs and deer were discovered at the site but the scientists could not prove definitively that the tools were used for hunting. Majority in eleven different layers of fossil soils. These 17 different layers of loess and fossil soils were formed during a period spanning nearly a million years.

It remains unclear which species of human relative created the implements.

"Our discovery means it is necessary now to reconsider the timing of when early humans left Africa".

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