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May 23, 2024

Ancient Human Artefacts Uncovered at Shiyu Excavation Site Push Back Human Arrival in East Asia by 30,000 Years

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Jan 19, 2024

Archaeologists in China have uncovered a trove of ancient stone tools and human remains at the Shiyu excavation site that provide the earliest direct evidence of modern humans (Homo sapiens) in East Asia and indicate humans first arrived in the region around 50,000 years earlier than previous estimates.

Over 45,000-Year-Old Artefacts Reveal Surprising Sophistication

The artefacts uncovered at Shiyu in central China’s Henan province include over 3,000 stone tools, animal bone tools, bone points likely used as projectile tips, pigment grinding stones, shell ornaments, and ostrich eggshell beads and fragments. The tools display a remarkable level of sophistication given their extreme age.

“The artefacts show early humans possessed excellent cognition and capabilities for innovation,” said lead archaeologist Dr. Zhaoyu Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “The tools were made using precise techniques – some are tiny but with elaborate patterns.”

Human and Animal Remains Confirm Homo Sapiens Occupation

In addition to the artefacts, researchers discovered human cranial fossils and three nearly complete human teeth dated to around 45,000 years ago through radioisotope analysis. The size and shape characteristics confirm the remains belong to early modern humans rather than other human species.

Animal bones found at the site, including some bearing cut marks from stone tools, provide further evidence of a human presence as early as 45,000 years ago. Isotope analysis indicates the animals were hunted locally.

“The human and fauna fossils provide definitive evidence for Homo sapiens living at Shiyu 45,000 years ago,” said Dr. Zhu.

Findings Indicate Much Earlier Human Arrival in East Asia

The Shiyu discovery pushes back the timeline for modern humans in East Asia by around 30,000 years. Previous evidence suggested Homo sapiens first reached the region between 75,000 to 80,000 years ago.

The earlier presence revealed by the Shiyu site accords better with recent discoveries indicating modern humans had exited Africa and spread rapidly across Europe and Central Asia 50,000 to 55,000 years ago.

“The Shiyu artefacts now align the evidence from East Asia with the human expansion timelines observed in the West,” remarked anthropologist Dr. Rebecca Rogers of the University of North Carolina, who was not involved in the research.

Shiyu Findings Raise New Questions About Human Migration Routes

While the Shiyu discovery fills in a major gap about early modern human migration, it also poses new riddles. The tools do not closely resemble European artefacts from the same period, suggesting early Asians and Europeans had significant cultural differences very soon after the human exodus from Africa.

“It throws into question conventional ideas about cultural exchange between early humans in West and East Asia,” said Dr. Zhu. “It points to early modern human cultures being more diverse than we imagined even soon after the initial African diaspora.”

The findings could indicate previously unknown migration routes into East Asia, potential interbreeding between modern humans and archaic groups like Neanderthals and Denisovans, or even multiple out-of-Africa dispersals. More excavations at Shiyu and genetic analysis of the human remains could help clarify matters.

Next Steps: Ongoing Excavations and Further Study

With only 3% of the Shiyu site excavated so far, archaeologists expect more significant discoveries remain. Dr. Zhu said his team would continue digging at Shiyu through 2025, with a goal of uncovering more human and artefact fossils.

In parallel, an international team of 60 researchers across China, France and Australia has launched an intensive study applying numerous advanced analytical techniques to the fossils, tools and sediment layers already retrieved from Shiyu.

“We will squeeze out every iota of insight possible from what Shiyu has already given us,” said Dr. Zhu. “Then see what fresh secrets she reveals as more artifacts emerge from her soil.”

Implications of the Shiyu Discovery

The unexpected findings from Shiyu raise new questions and challenges for anthropologists while filling in major blanks in the human migration map. Some implications include:

  • Timelines for human dispersal across Eurasia need significant revision
  • Cultural/biological diversity among early human groups was greater than anticipated
  • Multiple migration waves or routes from Africa currently best fit evidence
  • Interbreeding with archaic humans in Asia more likely
  • “Out of Africa” theory confirmed but details are complex

While stirring up debate, the Shiyu results underscore how little is still understood about early modern humans and reinforce the vast untapped potential of archaeology to reshape accepted wisdom. Dr. Zhu and colleagues plan extensive further study of Shiyu’s treasures to uncover the full story of early human exploration of East Asia.

Key Facts About the Shiyu Discovery

Item Description
Site name Shiyu (Stone Gate)
Location Near Xuchang, central China’s Henan province
Age of artifacts/fossils ~45,000 years old
Key finds 3,000 stone tools, bone tools, human/animal remains
Previous timeline for modern humans in East Asia 75,000-80,000 years ago
New timeline suggested by findings As early as 45,000 years ago
Lead archaeologist Dr. Zhaoyu Zhu, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Extent of site excavated so far Only ~3%
Plans for further study Continued excavation through 2025, intensive analysis by 60 global experts
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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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