Appearing as an essay in Nature, this linked article describes how in 1995, Russell Ciochon,  who had described a 1.9 million year-old fossil jaw found in the Sichuan province of China as belonging to Homo habilis, with the implication that latercolchion map Homo erectus in Asia was a direct descendant, has changed his mind, instead attributing the fossil material to one or more mystery ape populations. The article begins thus:

Fossil finds of early humans in southeast Asia may actually be the remains of an unknown ape. Russell Ciochon says that many palaeoanthropologists — including himself — have been mistaken.

Fourteen years ago, a Nature paper by my colleagues and I described a 1.9-million-year-old human jaw fragment from Longgupo in Sichuan province, China1. The ancient date in itself was spectacular. Previous evidence had suggested that human ancestors arrived in east Asia from Africa about 1 million years ago, in the form of Homo erectus. Longgupo nearly doubled that estimate. But even more exciting — and contentious — was our claim that the jaw was related to H. habilis, a species of distinctly African origin. If this descendant of H. habilis had arrived so early into southeast Asia, then it probably gave rise to H. erectus in the Far East, rather than H. erectus itself sweeping west to east.

For many years, I used Longgupo to promote this pre-erectus origin for H. erectus finds in Asia. But now, in light of new evidence from across southeast Asia and after a decade of my own field research in Java, I have changed my mind. Not everyone may agree; such classifications are always open to interpretation. But I am now convinced that the Longgupo fossil and others like it do not represent a pre-erectus human, but rather one or more mystery apes indigenous to southeast Asia’s Pleistocene primal forest. In contrast, H. erectus arrived in Asia about 1.6 million years ago, but steered clear of the forest in pursuit of grassland game. There was no pre-erectus species in southeast Asia after all.

He recounts how he apparently mistakenly identified worn molars, found in the vicinity of possible stone tools which led him to conclude that he had found a pre-erectus fossil. However, in 2005 he changed his mind, after having studied other fossil teeth shown to him by Wang Wei of the Guangxi Natural History Museum.

( via Mundo Neandertal)


The Mystery Ape of Pleistocene Asia by Russell L. Ciochon

Nature 459, 910-911 (18 June 2009) | doi:10.1038/459910a; Published online 17 June 2009