Chinese scientists have discovered human teeth dating back at least 80,000 years. This discovery shows that modern humans left Africa to migrate to the rest of the world at least 20,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Scientists discovered the 47 teeth in a cave in Daoxian, located in China’s Hunan province. It is the strongest proof discovered to date that shows modern humans first left Africa and travelled to Asia at least 80,000 - 120,000 years ago. The study was published in the journal, Nature.
Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist from the University of Oxford in England, who did not participate in the study, stated that, “This is stunning, it's major league. It's one of the most important finds coming out of Asia in the last decade.”
The theory of modern human migration, referred to as “Out of Africa,” has been widely accepted. It is based on scientific evidence that indicates the species of modern humans originated in Africa and made their first successful travels to the rest of the world between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago.
The discovery of these teeth challenge that theory, relating to both the timing of the first migration and whether a separate group of modern humans developed and evolved in Asia.
One of the study's lead researchers, Liu Wu, from China's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), stated that, “The fossils reveal that 80,000 years ago, the first modern humans appeared somewhere in southern China. We believe that southern China probably was a central area for modern evolution.”
Maria Martinón-Torres, a researcher at University College London and one of the co-leads of the study, said the discovery poses so many questions. “What does this mean? What is the origin of this population (of people in China)? And what is their fate? Some people really now have to reconsider models. Maybe there's not only one (migration) out of Africa, (maybe) there are several out of Africa.” She further added that, “And also we have to understand what happened in Asia. These populations, did they really evolve also for a while outside Africa?”
Liu said the research scientists plans to extract DNA from the teeth to hopefully provide more information on the origins of the Daoxian people.
Along with the discovery of the teeth, researchers found the remains of mammals, including extinct hyenas, elephants and a giant panda. Since stone tools were not recovered, researchers believe that the humans did not live there, but were rather left there by predators.
Liu noted that, “The teeth are basically the same as yours and mine.”