Traditional theories tracing human origins to waves of migration from Africa 60,000 years ago are being upended after scientists discovered new evidence showing that humans departed Africa twice as long ago – likely as early as 120,000 years ago.
Fossils discovered in central and southern China between 70,000 and and 120,000 years ago are pointing to the possibility that humans had left the African continent far earlier than presumed, although this doesn't preclude the likelihood of mass human outflow 60,000 years ago during the "Out of Africa" migration event, which most contemporary non-African peoples have been linked to through DNA analysis.
“The initial dispersals out of Africa prior to 60,000 years ago were likely by small groups of foragers, and at least some of these early dispersals left low-level genetic traces in modern human populations," said researcher and anthropologist Michael Petraglia. He along with a team from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, in Jena, Germany, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa have been spearheading the research.
The new research presented in the journal Science shows that human development entered an important stage in East Asia, possibly also entailing a period of intermingling between humans in Asia and those in Africa. Many also traveled as far as Oceania.
If proven correct, the theory could mean that all modern humans can trace their lineage to East Asia as well as Africa.
The research also suggests that early humans interbred with non-humans such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, a hominin species discovered less than a decade ago.
Additionally, the discovery years by German archaeologists of human-like teeth dating back nine million years may also hint at potential European origins for humankind.
The researchers and authors of the new report say what remains fundamental is to investigate these leads rather than simply rely on archaeology alone.
“Fortunately, there have been an increasing number of multidisciplinary research programs launched in Asia over the past few decades. The information that is being reported is helping to fill in the gaps in the evolutionary records," said Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute.
"It is an exciting time to be involved with interdisciplinary research projects across Asia," said her colleague, Christopher Bae of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.