A study published today in the journal Scientific Reports on the skeletal remains found in the Dushan Cave, in Linfeng, southern China, reveals surprising dental characteristics for an Upper Paleolithic population.
According to the co-authors, María Martinón Torres and José María Bermúdez de Castro, from the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH), to find these characters with high frequency it is necessary go back to the earliest representatives of the genus Homo and even Australopithecus.
The scientists add that "it is not that such traits have completely disappeared in modern Chinese populations, but that their joint presence in the individual known as Dushan 1 confers a certain primitive aspect to their dentition."
There is a possibility that Dushan 1, whose remains have been dated between 15,280 and 12,765 years old, represent the normal variability of a little-known population in a vast territory. This hypothesis can be contrasted with new studies of populations from the same period.
"Perhaps we are facing a case of prolonged isolation of a group in a certain territory, in which primitive characters of the first representatives of Homo sapiens in China have been preserved," says Bermúdez de Castro.
Finally, one could propose the interbreeding of the first Homo sapiens with ancestral resident groups. The descendants of this hybridization would have reached the end of the Pleistocene, showing in their dental apparatus the evidence of a very particular evolutionary history.
The variability of Chinese Pleistocene humans less is known than that of Africans and Europeans. However, the scale is slowly balancing out. The oldest fossils are becoming better known and their interpretation already enters the general models. Perhaps the greatest problem lies in the study of more recent populations from the late Pleistocene, since their interest has been less for international experts.
“The Dushan 1 skeleton opens up great possibilities for us to show interest in that little-known era of China's Pleistocene. We know that much remains to be learned about the peculiar dynamics of the populations of our species, which moved from Africa to colonize the entire planet ”, concludes Martinón Torres.
Wei Liao, Song Xing, Dawei Li, María Martinón-Torres, Xiujie Wu, Christophe Soligo, José María Bermúdez de Castro, Wei Wang, Wu Liu. "Mosaic dental morphology in a terminal Pleistocene hominin from Dushan Cave in southern China". Scientific Reports (2019).