A 3D Computed Tomography Scan Of The Liujiang Cranium

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

10 thoughts on “A 3D Computed Tomography Scan Of The Liujiang Cranium

  1. Peter Brown (http://www-personal.une.edu.au/~pbrown3/Liujiang.html) has another U-date, but he seems unaware of the 2002 study:

    More recently a Uranium series date of 67,000 +6000-5000 was reported for Liujiang (Wu 1988, 1990, 1992) which would make it the earliest example of modern Homo sapiens from the East Asian region. However, the stratigraphic relationship of the dated stalactite layer and the human skeletal materials can not be confirmed (Chen and Zhang 1991). At present it must be said that the Liujiang skeleton remains undated.

    It would seem in any case that it may be a very old human remain (with all the uncertainties of this type of late datation) but your preference for the older possible dates (according to Guanjung Shen) seems like untenable on light of all the other known evidence, specially (but not only) genetics.

    A date of c. 68,000 fits both studies and would agree with the mainstream paradigm. If the narrow (“more likely”) estimate in the 2002 paper of c. 111-139 ka. is correct anyhow, it would challenge the post-Toba part of the paradigm but not the OOA model at all.

    We need something more solid anyhow.

  2. Luis,

    To clarify, I don’t prefer the older dates. I explicitly said the skull is considered to be from sometime in late Pleistocene China. I questioned Shen’s preference for the older dates.

    Kambiz

  3. Luis wrote: “preference for the older possible dates … seems like untenable on light of all the other known evidence, specially … genetics”. I think it would be a mistake to automatically assume that a modern phenotype necessarily belongs to a haplogroup ancestral to modern ones. Obviously the change to modern phenotype was not instantaneous.

  4. It is quite an interesting find, seeing as if the dating is correct you get a complete restructuring of human evolution. The problem with scientific revolutions, as always is the case, is you need ‘extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims’. Without a precise geologic stratum to place the Liujiang cranium we must choose Occam’s razor and let it be. You will always have people willing to put forth the work to make extraordinary claims, and you will always have those sitting back and shooting down the claims due to bad science. If they truly wish to reconstruct the biogeography of human evolution then they must be scientific about it, not emotional.

  5. @ Terryt:

    Luis wrote: “preference for the older possible dates … seems like untenable on light of all the other known evidence, specially … genetics”. I think it would be a mistake to automatically assume that a modern phenotype necessarily belongs to a haplogroup ancestral to modern ones. Obviously the change to modern phenotype was not instantaneous.

    He was not from Mars nor other Homo species, therefore it’s only logical to conclude that he had Homo sapiens genetics.

    Making unclear speculative remarks will not help to get anything straight. Just show your preference for multirregionalism and interspecies hybridation that is not supported by any evidence so far.

    @Kambiz:

    Luis,

    To clarify, I don’t prefer the older dates. I explicitly said the skull is considered to be from sometime in late Pleistocene China. I questioned Shen’s preference for the older dates.

    Ok. I misunderstood you then. Sorry.

  6. looking at the longness of the skull, makes you wonder exactly when the mongolian inhabitants arrived there – what would have changed the human stock into the distinctive mongoloids? And when? I’ve not been able to find much about it.

  7. Luis: “He was not from Mars nor other Homo species”. Homo sapiens must have evolved from some other Homo species. As you say they didn’t come from Mars. The question is how widespread were members of the species from which Homo sapiens evolved? Presumably early members of the new species could breed with members of the original species. It is therefore a mistake to assume that only members of modern Y- and mtDNA haplogroups were involved in any original expansion, if, in fact, there was but a single expansion. Besides which we can assume that many haplogroups that were part of any African Exodus have become extinct.

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