Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Out of Guangxi

Check out the story I wrote for New Scientist this week on what Chinese paleontologists believe to be a 110,000 yr old human jaw bone (see photo on right).

If their claims about the fossil they found in China's southern Guangxi province prove true, it would raise some interesting questions about human origins.

Specifically it could challenge the widely held belief that modern humans are the direct descendents of Homo sapiens that migrated out of Africa around 100,000 years ago.

The fossil was uncovered in Chongzuo just 2 km from the Ecopark that I've visited a few times in the last couple years to write about biologist Pan Wenshi and the white headed langurs. 

The area has some really steep limestone "karst" mountains that offer protection for the langurs today and are likely what preserved the recently uncovered fossil for so long.  The limestone peaks have been rising for the past 2 million years at the same time that the landscape around them has subsided. As a result a cave that 110,000 years ago was easily accessible, is now more than 30 meters up a steep cliff face. 

The team that found the jaw bone also excavated the fossilized remains of panthers, rhinos, and elephants from surrounding caves. And I thought the langurs were impressive.

Image Credits: Fossilized mandible, Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Karst mountains, Chongzuo Biodiversity Research Center, Peking University.

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