Lao skull: the oldest remains of modern humans in Southeast Asia

Discovered in a cave in Annam mountains in Northern Laos; the skull is the oldest fossil belonging to the person of modern type found in South-East Asia, the researchers report

This discovery pushes the migration of the population in Africa by as much as 20 000 years and indicates that ancient Wanderers out of Africa left the coast and inhabited areas with unusual environments much earlier than historians thought.

The scientists who found the skull in 2009, were the first who discovered the remains of ancient man in a very long time on the territory of modern Laos – since the early 1900s when in one of the caves of the mountains of Annam were found skulls and skeletons of several modern man. Those fossils were about 16,000 years old, i.e. they are considerably younger than the newly found skull which is estimated to be about 46 000 – 63 000 years.

“This is a particularly ancient fossil of the modern human form, but paradoxically, this man is too evolved for that area, says an anthropologist from the University of Illinois Laura Shakelford, which oversaw the study in conjunction with anthropologist Fabrice Demateis National Museum of natural history in Paris, in an interview for sciencedaily – In China and in Southeast Asia were found other remains of man of modern type, which may be of the same length of time that a new find, but they are either badly dated, or not fully manifest features of man of modern type. Eyes the skull is very well dated and definitely belongs to the same species that we are.”

Was found only the skull and a single artifact. This suggests that the cave was not a dwelling or the place of his burial, said Shackelford. It is more likely that the person died outside and the body was in the cave much later.

This finding indicates that early modern human migrants not just followed along the coast to the South, to the Islands of Southeast Asia and Australia, as believed by some researchers, but also traveled North into other types of terrain, says Shackelford.

“This finding supports the theory of African origin of modern humans, says researcher sciencedaily. Given their age, these remains may belong to a direct ancestor of the first migrants to Australia. It is also likely that mainland Southeast Asia was a crossroads leading to multiple migratory paths,”.

This discovery also confirms the genetic studies that indicate that modern humans occupied this part of the world at least 60,000 years ago. “This is the first physical evidence that support these genetic studies,” says Shackelford.

The researchers used radiocarbon analysis and the method of optical stimulated luminescence to determine the age of soil layers above, below and around the skull, which was found about 2.5 m below the cave’s surface.

Researchers in Illinois used method of Dating “uranium/thorium” to determine the age of the skull. The analysis showed age about 63, 000 years.

Researcher Kira Westaway from the University of Macquarie in Australia, which was dated soil samples around known fossils of “the hobbit”, found on the island of Flores in Indonesia in 2003, has conducted research into methods of optical stimulated luminescence and thermoluminescence. These methods measure the energy stored in transparent particles in the soil to determine how much time has passed since then, as the soil was exposed to heat or sunlight. Westaway found that the layer of soil surrounding the fossil had been in the cave between 46 000 and 51 000 years ago.

“The dates less than the age of the fossil, because we don’t know how long the body was outside of the cave, said Shackelford sciencedaily. This finding suggests that migration from Africa to East and Southeast Asia occurred fairly quickly and that, once there, people were not afraid of the environment to which they are accustomed. We now have evidence (the fossil) not only the fact that people were in Northern Laos in the period of migration from Africa, but the fact that they were there much earlier than we thought.”

A team of scientists described his discovery in the newspaper Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team also included scientists from the University of Toulouse (France), French National center for scientific research, Department of National heritage (Laos), Institute of Geology at the University of Strasbourg (France), Louvre (Paris), Geological survey of Illinois and University of Illinois (USA).

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