A couple days ago, press release agencies like EurekAlert! and ScienceDaily ran some anthropology blips that was not picked up by major news sources. So if you don’t follow them you would have missed out on this news.
In a nutshell, Wu Xiujie, from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has completed a 3D computed tomography scan of the Liujiang cranium. The Liujiang cranium was discovered in the Tongtianyan Cave of the Guangxi Zhuang region in 1958 by some farmers. It looks remarkably modern, actually very similar to 20,000 year old skulls from Japan, but no quantifiable dating technique was ever preformed on the samples until many years later.
A group of Chinese researchers collaborated with Phillip Tobias in 2002 and dated the probable sediments via uranium-series dating. They figured the sediments dated to 111,000 to 139,000 years ago. But since the actual stratigraphic layer where the fossil came out of is unknown, they extended the age range to 68,000 years to 153,000 years old. The citation is provided below.
If Liujiang, a modern looking cranium, is truly 153,000 years old — then it directly competes with the modern looking crania from Bouri and Omo, Ethiopia, dating to similar time period and challenges the out of Africa model of human dispersal. Given the uncertainty of the exact stratigraphic layer the fossil came from, people have simply considered it the most complete human fossil from late Pleistocene China, (130,000 to 10,000 years ago).
Why they didn’t date the calcite embedded to the surface and interior of the skull is beyond me. All I know is that the Chinese have consistently and ungracefully tried to prove their version of a multiregional evolution of Homo sapiens, where the deme that originated in China is the oldest and had the most modern set of features before any other deme.
Along with the uncertainty of dates is the uncertainty of the exact phyletic relationship of Liujiang to other crania. Sure it looks modern looking on the outside, but what about the interior morphology? The scan has allowed researchers to virtually reconstruct a representation of the structure and shape of the brain and they conclude that the,
“morphological features of the Liujiang brain are in common with modern humans, including a round brain shape, bulged and wide frontal lobes, an enlarged brain height, a full orbital margin and long parietal lobes.
There are a few differences between Liujiang and the modern Chinese in our sample, including a strong posterior projection of the occipital lobes, and a reduced cerebellar lobe. The measurement of the virtual endocast shows that the endocranial capacity of Liujiang is 1567 cc, which is in the range of Late Homo sapiens and much beyond the mean of modern humans. The brain morphology of Liujiang is assigned to Late Homo sapiens.”
- Shen, G. (2002). U-Series dating of Liujiang hominid site in Guangxi, Southern China. Journal of Human Evolution, 43(6), 817-829. DOI: 10.1006/jhev.2002.0601