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Archaic Homo Sapiens in East Asia, Part 2

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May 29, 2013 Tags: Human Origins
Archaic Homo Sapiens in East Asia, Part 2

Today's entry was written by James Kidder. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: Today, biological anthropologist James Kidder continues to tell the story of the evolution of creatures on our own small branch of the primate family tree, the hominins. In his previous post, Kidder describes the rise of the archaic Homo sapiens 600 to 700 thousand years ago. From the river valleys in Indonesia, to the open savannas in Africa, to the caves in China, India and Europe, Homo erectus had mastered fire, standardized stone tool technology and incorporated hunting into its daily life. In this next post, Kidder takes us on a tour of the transitional phase between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.

The Genetic Evidence

In recent years, genetic studies have shed much light on the comings and goings of different groups of Homo sapiens and these studies have stretched our knowledge back beyond our own modern form and into the time of our recent ancestors. 

Using pseudogenes on the X-chromosome, Garrigan and colleagues (Garrigan, Mobasher, Severson, Wilder, & Hammer, 2005) have found evidence in modern humans of ancient DNA that is Asian in origin, perhaps as old as 2 million years.  This strongly suggests genetic continuity from the early Homo erectus populations through archaic Homo sapiens and to modern human groups.  This lineage has its highest frequency in the southern Chinese but can be found in all of the Asian populations sampled.  The authors write:

Any degree of dual ancestry in the modern human genome would either demonstrate that the transition to an anatomically modern form did not occur in an isolated, panmictic population (Cann, Stoneking, and Wilson 1987) or that replacement of preexisting hominid populations was incomplete (e.g., Brauer 1989; Smith, Falsetti, and Donnelly 1989).

The conclusions of Garrigan et al. have been contested by Blum and Jakobsson (Blum & Jakobsson, 2011), who argue that the ancient autosomal lineage patterns are consistent with an out-of-Africa scenario.  However, to obtain this result, the authors were required to set their effective population size to 14,000 individuals, matching the estimates produced by the mtDNA studies.  Thus, the results are only as good as the assumptions of those studies. 

The general conclusions of Garrigan et al. were corroborated by Wall et al., who studied polymorphism data (Wall, Lohmueller, & Plagnol, 2009). They concluded that there is evidence for considerable mixing of ancient populations in Europe, Asia and West Africa and that this mixture represents the norm in human populations history.    

The genetic link between archaics and moderns throughout Eurasia was further supported by the work of Green et al., who presented a genetic sequence of Neandertal DNA.  Their results strongly suggested that Neandertals interbred with other archaic Homo sapiens populations in Eurasia and that, because of the presence of Neandertal DNA markers in modern Asian populations, there was continuity between archaic Homo sapiens and modern Homo sapiens in Europe and Asia. 

This genetic evidence is in keeping with what Macintosh once referred to as “the mark of ancient Java” that he found in modern Australasian populations (Macintosh, 1965).  Durband (pers. comm.) suggests, however, that, while there is good genetic evidence of some admixture, the fossil evidence suggests that some replacement (e.g. Ngandong) did occur. 

Tying the Fossils and the Genes Together

One of the drawbacks of the current genetic studies is that it is difficult to relate them directly to the palaeontological evidence because beyond around 50 thousand years before the present, it is not possible to derive genetic information from the skeletal (morphological) material.  Consequently, while we have clear genetic data from modern individuals that indicates admixture between archaic Homo sapiens groups, we do not know exactly how that manifested itself.  If Durband is correct that the Ngandong material represent a relic population of late archaic Homo sapiens, might that also be the case for other populations in this region that are represented by some of the above crania?  Based on the general paucity of evidence in this region, we simply do not know.  All we can say for sure is that these crania represent an advanced condition over the Homo erectus populations that preceded them in this region.  How much gene flow occurred in the process of this evolution is not clear. 

Archaeological Evidence:

The stone tool evidence in East Asia presents an unusual picture.   In China, the tools that date to the end of Homo erectus time and the advent of archaic Homo sapiens are still choppers, chopping tools, cleavers and flakes.  Between 100 and 50 thousand years B.P., however, several caves yield a preponderance of scrapers and flake tools and these have been favorably compared to the Mousterian of Europe, produced by Neandertals (Ofer Bar-Yosef & Wang, 2012). These tools are simple, in comparison to other areas, however and they persist for a greater period of time, stretching from west China to Siberia.  It has been suggested that, as was mentioned last post, those who migrated east did not fully develop their blade tools as they did in Europe because they were able to make use of bamboo, which allowed them considerable latitude in tool manufacture, not to mention sharpness.  The presence of the simple tools has been explained in that those were required to produce the bamboo tools.  Bar-Yosef and Wang admit, however, that this explanation is only hypothetical at present and, as one travels north, out of the latitudinal range of bamboo, becomes increasingly difficult to support. 

In Japan, despite the complete lack of late Pleistocene hominin remains, there are stone tool industries dating back to between 50 and 70 thousand years B.P.  These tools are characterized as being very simple, little more than cobbles and choppers for the vast majority of the late Pleistocene in Japan (Akazawa, Oda, & Yamanaka, 1980).  When they do change, they do so rapidly and there are microlithic tools found in association with bone points late in the sequence, corresponding, almost certainly, with modern human societies. 

Confounding research in this area is the recent exposure of a grand hoax perpetrated by a once-renowned Japanese archaeologist, Fujimura Shinichi, who had pushed back the appearance of humans in Japan to the early Palaeolithic to between 100 and 600 thousand years B.P. Privately, it was thought that the evidence was incredible and many of us wondered (some aloud) if there was not contamination or stratigraphic intrusion.  Subsequently, he was caught red-handed by a national newspaper reporter while deliberately burying stone tools at a site in order to make it look older than it was.  He soon confessed to having done this at many sites, so as to enhance his reputation.  It is estimated by archaeologist Shuzo Oda  (pers. comm.) that as many as 90 palaeolithic sites will have to be reexamined to determine their authenticity. 

Bar Yosef and Belfer-Cohen (O. Bar-Yosef & Belfer-Cohen, 2013) suggest that when the Early Würm climate in Europe became too inhospitable for the northern European Neandertals, they went south and east, bringing the Mousterian stone tool technologies with them, as is exemplified by the Middle Palaeolithic tools found at Denisova Cave, in Siberia.  These authors suggest that the Levant served as a crossroads of sorts with moderns and Neandertals meeting and interbreeding.  Current work by myself and a co-author, however, suggests that the inbreeding in this area is not adequately reflected in the morphology of the early modern humans there, who appear to show a morphology that is reminiscent of African archaic Homo sapiens, not Neandertals. 

If the genetic evidence is corroborated, and there was population (and, perhaps, cultural) continuity across Eurasia, it could help to explain the similarity of cultural implements and skeletal morphology that is witnessed in the representatives of these populations. 

What is clear from this evidence in this area and in Europe and Africa is that we, as modern humans have a concrete link to the past.  No longer can we look at these remains and regard them as curios.  Even if they do not completely resemble anatomically modern humans, they behave in ways that are demonstrably modern.  Furthermore, we carry their legacy in our genetic code.  The last great push into modernity was yet to come but the populations represented by these individuals were almost there. 

Next, we will address the most alternately celebrated and reviled hominin form in the entire pantheon of human evolution: The Neandertals.


Akazawa, Takeru, Oda, Shizuo, & Yamanaka, Ichiro. (1980). The Japanese Paleolithic: Rippu Shobo, Tokyo.

Bar-Yosef, O., & Belfer-Cohen, A. (2013). Following Pleistocene road signs of human dispersals across Eurasia. Quaternary International, 285(0), 30-43. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2011.07.043

Bar-Yosef, Ofer, & Wang, Youping. (2012). Paleolithic Archaeology in China. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41(1), 319-335. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-092611-145832

Bartstra, Gert-Jan, Soegondho, Santosa, & Wijk, Albert van der. (1988). Ngandong man: age and artifacts. Journal of human evolution, 17(3), 325-337.

Blum, Michael G. B., & Jakobsson, Mattias. (2011). Deep Divergences of Human Gene Trees and Models of Human Origins. Molecular biology and evolution, 28(2), 889-898. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msq265

Brown, Peter. (2001). Chinese Middle Pleistocene hominids and modern human origins in east Asia. Human Roots: Africa and Asia in the Middle Pleistocene, 135.

Garrigan, Daniel, Mobasher, Zahra, Severson, Tesa, Wilder, Jason A., & Hammer, Michael F. (2005). Evidence for Archaic Asian Ancestry on the Human X Chromosome. Molecular biology and evolution, 22(2), 189-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msi013

Grün , Rainer, & Thorne, Alan. (1997). Dating the Ngandong Humans. Science, 276(5318), 1575-1576. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.276.5318.1575

Indriati, Etty, Swisher, Carl C., III, Lepre, Christopher, Quinn, Rhonda L., Suriyanto, Rusyad A., Hascaryo, Agus T., . . . Antón, Susan C. (2011). The Age of the 20 Meter Solo River Terrace, Java, Indonesia and the Survival of Homo erectus  in Asia. PloS one, 6(6), e21562. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0021562

Liu, Wu, Zhang, Yinyun, & Wu, Xinzhi. (2005). Middle Pleistocene human cranium from Tangshan (Nanjing), Southeast China: A new reconstruction and comparisons with Homo erectus from Eurasia and Africa. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 127(3), 253-262. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.20066

Macintosh, Neil William George. (1965). The physical aspect of man in Australia. Aboriginal man in Australia, 29-70.

Pope, Geoffrey G. (1992). Craniofacial evidence for the origin of modern humans in China. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 35(S15), 243-298. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.1330350610

Rightmire, GP. (2007). Later Middle Pleistocene Homo. Handbook of paleoanthropology, 3, 1695-1715.

Swisher, Carl C. III, Rink, W. J., Antón, S. C., Schwarcz, H. P., Curtis, G. H., Suprijo, A., & Widiasmoro. (1996). Latest Homo erectus of Java: Potential Contemporaneity with Homo sapiens in Southeast Asia. Science, 274(5294), 1870-1874. doi: 10.2307/2891688

Tiemei, Chen, Quan, Yang, & En, Wu. (1994). Antiquity of Homo sapiens in China. Nature, 368(6466), 55-56.

Wall, Jeffrey D., Lohmueller, Kirk E., & Plagnol, Vincent. (2009). Detecting Ancient Admixture and Estimating Demographic Parameters in Multiple Human Populations. Molecular biology and evolution, 26(8), 1823-1827. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msp096

Wu, Xinzhi, & Athreya, Sheela. (2013). A description of the geological context, discrete traits, and linear morphometrics of the Middle Pleistocene hominin from Dali, Shaanxi Province, China. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 150(1), 141-157. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.22188

Xiao, Jule, Jin, Changzhu, & Zhu, Yizhi. (2002). Age of the fossil Dali Man in north-central China deduced from chronostratigraphy of the loess–paleosol sequence. Quaternary Science Reviews, 21(20–22), 2191-2198. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0277-3791(02)00011-2

Zeitoun, Valery, Détroit, Florent, Grimaud-Hervé, Dominique, & Widianto, Harry. (2010). Solo man in question: Convergent views to split Indonesian Homo erectus in two categories. Quaternary International, 223–224(0), 281-292. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2010.01.018


James Kidder holds a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Tennessee (UT). He currently employed as an instructor at UT, and as a science research librarian at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He has been involved in the Veritas Forum at UT and runs the blog "Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist/Theistic Evolutionist."

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beaglelady - #80567

May 30th 2013

Again, very good. Looking forward especially to the post on Neandertals.  What species is that in the picture?

Jimpithecus - #80577

May 30th 2013

Well,  Homo sapiens, we think.  That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?

glsi - #80592

May 30th 2013

Beaglelady asks a good question.  You’ve used a high-production value artwork to illustrate your article.  It appears to be a photograph of a sculpture.  I notice there is neither a caption nor any credit given to the artist nor location of the artwork.  Isn’t it true that the artist has invented the body hair, skin color and other external features in a very convincing manner?  I’m assuming the facial structure is based on some particular archaic skull or more probably only a piece of a skull or even a fragment.


You’re answer of “the $64,000 question” is quite revealing.  You admit you don’t know what it is.  If one does the slightest investigation one immediately finds this field is brimming with debate and controversy over such things.  And that’s fine because science is an endeavor to determine things which are unknown; and debate and controversy are often part of that process.


Yet the introductory note here confidently states you’re taking us on a “tour of the transitional phase between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens”.    And there’s a very impressive artwork which ostensibly is Exhibit A on the “tour”.  Is this the type of thing BioLogos hopes to travel  around to churches with the Evolution and Christian Faith grants like the freak shows of old?  

beaglelady - #80602

May 31st 2013


You are making a big deal out of nothing. When paleo-artists do reconstructions they use the same techniques that police and FBI agents use to determine what a victim, known only by a skeleton, looked like.  It’s a fascinating topic and you should look into it.   Of course skin color and hair texture are conjectural, but don’t you think it’s a reasonable guess?  Even you would put eyes in the eye sockets and you wouldn’t color the skin green.  

I’ve met some of these paleo-artists, seen their interpretations,  and I’ve seen how meticulously they work.  I have confidence that what they produce is pretty accurate. And as research goes on, they get more accurate. For example, genetic analysis shows that Neandertals had red hair.  



GJDS - #80665

June 1st 2013


FBI agenst and others who recreate such features draw on thousands upon thousands of samples and even then this approach is used as an indicator - it is not their skill that is the issue but the reliability of the technique and associated data. The subject discussed so confidently in this blog cannot be compared for reliability by any stretch with the activities by e.g. the FBI - such a suggestion is ‘a slight of hand’.

And of course, when these conclusions re bits of bone etc are challenged, we have the ubiquitous ‘the genes tell us it is anyway’ response (and the implication that anyone who does not believe this nonsense must be stupid).

I will take a leaf out of other commenters, and say also that these things do not prove nor dispove anything, and if workers in a field are inclined to view the data for the time being in a particular way, that is what they do. However it is innapropriate to infer that there is more then speculation on these matters.

beaglelady - #80671

June 2nd 2013

All work with a knowledge of anatomy—musculature and the like.  But please name a fairly recent reconstruction, where you saw it, and in what way you disagree with the intrepretation.   Even paleontologists are going to disagree with minor points. 

GJDS - #80673

June 2nd 2013

Your own comment is sufficient to show how your position is weak - what skelleton(s) do you (they) have that is sufficiently complete, and may be compared with many other living and dead examples, that would lead to your suggestion that these past ‘specimen’ are valid? By the way, I have taken the trouble to read some of the papers regarding the bits of bone found here and there, that are presented as ‘evidence’ for the type of representations that are used in these type of discussions - perhaps you should do the same instead of looking at FBI activities.

beaglelady - #80675

June 2nd 2013

I asked for an example of a reconstruction you had issues with.  

Anyway, you might find this link interesting.  Be sure to click on the “interactive button” for a discussion on paleo-reconstructions.  



I have met paleo-artist Viktor Deak and got to see his studio in a behind-the-scenes tour at the museum in the evening.  Fascinating!

glsi - #80681

June 2nd 2013

Thanks for the link.  It is an interesting video.  It would be fascinating to see 25 or so different paleo artists work independantly with the same fossil cast and then compare their results.  Then perhaps you would have a better idea of what is art and what is science.

beaglelady - #80694

June 2nd 2013

I don’t thing we can get 25 or so paleo-artists, but we can certainly view various interpretations of the same fossils or similar fossils, and even see how interpretations change as research brings new, relevant information to light.   Don’t you think that Deak’s work was reasonable?  He works with a scientist to do these reconstructions.   That Turkana boy specimen (Homo Ergaster)  was over 5 feet tall but just 8 years old!

No hominid has gotten such an extreme makeover as the Neandertal. Hopefully Jim will cover that in his next post. 


glsi - #80695

June 2nd 2013

Yes, it looked reasonable, but I wouldn’t stake a great deal on it since I don’t really know.  I bet he could get a nice gig with Planet of the Apes.  

I do take anything on Nova with a grain of salt since they are starting with assumptions which I don’t agree with.  This piece was very well done.

beaglelady - #80698

June 2nd 2013

Actually he did do concept work for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”!!!  The apes were all cgi and very convincing.  Really good movie. 

glsi - #80701

June 2nd 2013

Too funny.  Now I’ll have to see it.  I found the original ones very frightening as a child although I loved to watch it.  I haven’t seen any of the modern ones.

beaglelady - #80712

June 3rd 2013

Really good movie. Some parts are stretching it a bit, but that’s artistic license. 

The main them of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is  “Don’t play God.”  But Caesar the chimp also seems to be a type of Moses!  Can you spot this? There is even a “crossing of the red sea”

melanogaster - #80833

June 8th 2013

Not nearly as fascinating as having multiple creationists look at the same series of skulls and seeing that they all draw different bright, white lines between those they consider to be human and those they consider to be nonhuman.

beaglelady - #80836

June 8th 2013

LOL! I know what you mean.  I think one creo decided that Neandertals were soulless brutes!

Jimpithecus - #80607

May 31st 2013

Actually, Beaglelady is correct.  I did not pick this artwork, it was chosen by the editor.  Having said that, there is a perfectly good reason why we don’t know for sure.  Historically, there have been two interpretations of the Neandertal fossil record, which is quite good.  The first has argued that there was no connexion between the Neandertals and modern humans, based on the idea that modern humans had arisen due to a speciation event in sub-Saharan Africa and migrated north, replacing the archaics they came in contact with.

Recent genetic evidence (some of which I included in this post) has brought to light the fact that modern Europeans have archaic genes in them, such that there was at least some interbreeding between moderns and archaics.  How much is still unknown and how much is important to an understanding of how different genetically archaic Homo sapiens is from modern Homo sapiens. 

One of the reasons that we classify the Neandertals and those that came before them “Archaic Homo sapiens” is that they have some transitional characteristics from those that precede them—Homo erectus—and some that succeed them—anatomically modern Homo sapiens.  They are not a well-defined taxanomic category.

Jimpithecus - #80608

May 31st 2013

And I managed to forget to italicize every last species name in that last note.

glsi - #80617

May 31st 2013

So it’s a mixture of fact and fantasy and you still don’t seem to know what the picture is even supposed to be referring to.  And yet it’s meant to be illustrating some deep scientific research.  How is that any different from old-fashioned hucksterism?

Alexandra Creasy Liefman - #80619

May 31st 2013

Seems to me to be a mix of fact and educated, informed guess as you would expect when there are gaps in the evidence.

Interesting series, James, I look forward to more!

beaglelady - #80632

June 1st 2013

Exactly, Alexandra  

Jimpithecus - #80767

June 5th 2013

Actually it is the same as modern-day police sketch investigation,  If you want to call that hucksterism.

glsi - #80825

June 7th 2013

Did you find out from your editor what it’s supposed to be yet? Because if you don’t even know that then that’s what makes it seem like flim flam.

That’s very different from a police sketch which is used for a well defined purpose.

beaglelady - #80772

June 5th 2013

Here’s another example of your hucksterism in action:


lancelot10 - #81384

June 27th 2013

How could Jesus the Son of the most high God and his mother Mary be descended from apes??  The likeness of the ape species to mankind does not prove descent nor do DNA similarities - they prove a Creator who used DNA as the building code of all life.

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