Skeleton Holds Key To Origin Of Man
The Telegraph (UK) ^ | 4-3-2007 | Roger Highfield

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 2:24am BST 03/04/2007

A skeleton of a possible hybrid between modern and more ancient humans has been found in China, which challenges the theory that modern man originated in Africa.

Most experts believe that our ancestors emerged in Africa more than 150,000 years ago and then migrated around the world.

However, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Prof Erik Trinkaus and colleagues provide details of a skeleton found in 2003 from Tianyuan Cave near Beijing.

The skeleton is 42,000 to 38,500 years old, making it the oldest modern human skeleton from eastern Eurasia, and one of the oldest modern humans from the region.

Most of its features match those of modern man, though some are more like late archaic humans, including the Neanderthals. The authors conclude that, as our ancestors spread, they interbred with local, more ancient, types of human.

The researchers say it is unlikely that a simple spread of modern humans occurred east of Africa, especially because slightly younger skeletons have been found in eastern Eurasia with similar features.

"The partial skeleton from Tianyuan is an important find, since there is a dearth of material from east Asia to document how modern humans became established there," said Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum.

"Radiocarbon dates place the find close in age to the earliest Homo sapiens fossils so far discovered in Europe, Lebanon, Malaysia and Australia.

"Outside of Africa, only the early modern finds from Skhul and Qafzeh [in Israel], and possibly Liujiang from southern China, are of much greater antiquity."