Skull shows early man's epic journey to Asia

It's 46,000 years old – but bears evidence humans were colonists from the start

Scientists have unearthed the ancient skull of an anatomically-modern human from a jungle cave site in Laos, which they believe is the oldest known skeletal evidence of Homo sapiens in Asia.

The skull has been dated to between 46,000 and 63,000 years old – at least 20,000 years older than the previous oldest fossil remnants of modern man in south-east Asia, suggesting that early humans successfully colonised distant parts of the world relatively soon after leaving Africa.

The partially preserved skull includes the upper part of the brain case as well as jaw bone and teeth, which have the distinct anatomical characteristics of modern Homo sapiens such as high forehead, small brow-ridge and small front teeth, the scientists said.

Anthropologists found the skull while excavating the Tam Pa Ling cave on the side of the Pa Hang Mountain, which forms part of the Annamite mountain range of northern Laos, between Vietnam and Thailand. Discovering such ancient remains of modern humans so far inland suggests that the first people to migrate from our African homeland explored far away from the suggested migratory routes that followed the coastline.

Previous genetic studies have suggested that modern humans must have migrated across South East Asia at least 60,000 years ago but this is the first fossil evidence to support this DNA data, said Laura Shackelford of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's a particularly old modern human fossil and it's also a particularly old modern human for that region," Dr Shackelford said. Other fossil bones of modern Homo sapiens have been found in China or other parts of South East Asia, but they have either not been accurately dated or they do not contain unequivocal features of modern humans, she added.

"This skull is very well dated and shows very conclusive modern human features… [it] would have looked just like us, although this individual was very small relative to recent humans," Dr Shackelford said.

"It is very hard to say much of anything about the food that they ate because the teeth are very worn down. This is a relatively young adult individual so the diet most likely included tough foods to have worn the teeth to such a great degree."

The earliest evidence of modern H. sapiens outside Africa are fossils from the Levant region of the Middle East dated to between 80,000 and 100,000 years ago.

Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said the skull was important because it shows that modern humans had colonised Asia at least 50,000 years ago. "It thus confirms the expectation from DNA studies that modern humans were in south-east Asia by 50,000 years ago, since they arrived in New Guinea and Australia only a few thousand years later," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before