Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Lao skull earliest example of modern human fossil in Southeast Asia

Date:
August 20, 2012
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
An ancient skull recovered from a cave in the Annamite mountains in northern Laos is the oldest modern human fossil found in Southeast Asia, researchers report. The discovery pushes back the clock on modern human migration through the region by as much as 20,000 years, and indicates that ancient wanderers out of Africa left the coast and inhabited diverse habitats much earlier than previously appreciated.

The researchers found skull fragments that date to 63,000 years ago.
Credit: Laura Shackelford

An ancient skull recovered from a cave in the Annamite Mountains in northern Laos is the oldest modern human fossil found in Southeast Asia, researchers report. The discovery pushes back the clock on modern human migration through the region by as much as 20,000 years and indicates that ancient wanderers out of Africa left the coast and inhabited diverse habitats much earlier than previously appreciated.

Related Articles


The team described its finding in a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists, who found the skull in 2009, were likely the first to dig for ancient bones in Laos since the early 1900s, when a team found skulls and skeletons of several modern humans in another cave in the Annamite Mountains. Those fossils were about 16,000 years old, much younger than the newly found skull, which dates to between 46,000 and 63,000 years old.

"It's a particularly old modern human fossil and it's also a particularly old modern human for that region," said University of Illinois anthropologist Laura Shackelford,

who led the study with anthropologist Fabrice Demeter, of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. "There are other modern human fossils in China or in Island Southeast Asia that may be around the same age but they either are not well dated or they do not show definitively modern human features. This skull is very well dated and shows very conclusive modern human features," she said.

No other artifacts have yet been found with the skull, suggesting that the cave was not a dwelling or burial site, Shackelford said. It is more likely that the person died outside and the body washed into the cave sometime later, she said.

The find reveals that early modern human migrants did not simply follow the coast and go south to the islands of Southeast Asia and Australia, as some researchers have suggested, but that they also traveled north into very different types of terrain, Shackelford said.

"This find supports an 'Out-of-Africa' theory of modern human origins rather than a multi-regionalism model," she said. "Given its age, fossils in this vicinity could be direct ancestors of the first migrants to Australia. But it is also likely that mainland Southeast Asia was a crossroads leading to multiple migratory paths."

The discovery also bolsters genetic studies that indicate that modern humans occupied that part of the world at least 60,000 years ago, she said.

"This is the first fossil evidence that supports the genetic data," she said.

The researchers used radiocarbon dating and luminescence techniques to determine the age of the soil layers above, below and surrounding the skull, which was found nearly 2 1/2 meters (about 8.2 feet) below the surface of the cave.

Researchers at Illinois used uranium/thorium dating to determine the age of the skull, which they determined was about 63,000 years old.

Research fellow Kira Westaway, of Macquarie University in Australia (who dated the soils around the famous "hobbit" fossil found on Flores Island in Indonesia in 2003), conducted the luminescence analyses. These techniques measure the energy retained in crystalline particles in the soil to determine how much time has elapsed since the soil was last exposed to heat or solar radiation. She found that the layer of soil surrounding the fossil had washed into the cave between 46,000 and 51,000 years ago.

"Those dates are a bit younger than the direct date on the fossil, which we would expect because we don't know how long the body sat outside the cave before it washed in," Shackelford said.

"This fossil find indicates that the migration out of Africa and into East and Southeast Asia occurred at a relatively rapid rate, and that, once there, modern humans weren't limited to environments that they had previously experienced," she said. "We now have the fossil evidence to prove that they were there long before we thought they were there."

The research team also included scientists from Universitι Toulouse III; the French National Center for Scientific Research, Paris; the Department of National Heritage, Lao PDR; the Institute of Geology, University of Strasbourg, France; the Louvre, Paris; the Illinois State Geological Survey, and the geology department, both at the University of Illinois.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Fabrice Demeter, Laura L. Shackelford, Anne-Marie Bacon, Philippe Duringer, Kira Westaway, Thongsa Sayavongkhamdy, Josι Braga, Phonephanh Sichanthongtip, Phimmasaeng Khamdalavong, Jean-Luc Ponche, Hong Wang, Craig Lundstrom, Elise Patole-Edoumba, and Anne-Marie Karpoff. Anatomically modern human in Southeast Asia (Laos) by 46 ka. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 20, 2012 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1208104109

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Lao skull earliest example of modern human fossil in Southeast Asia." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120820152204.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2012, August 20). Lao skull earliest example of modern human fossil in Southeast Asia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120820152204.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Lao skull earliest example of modern human fossil in Southeast Asia." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120820152204.htm (accessed November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) — A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Ruins Thought To Be Port Actually Buried Greek City

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) — Media is calling it an "underwater Pompeii." Researchers have found ruins off the coast of Delos. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amphipolis Tomb Architraves Reveal Faces

Amphipolis Tomb Architraves Reveal Faces

AFP (Nov. 22, 2014) — Faces in an area of mosaics is the latest find by archaeologists at a recently discovered tomb dating back to fourth century BC and the time of Alexander the Great in Greece. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins