Date: 14 Jul 2010

Divorcing Hominins from the Stegodon-Ailuropoda Fauna: New Views on the Antiquity of Hominins in Asia

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Abstract

The distinctive Stegodon-Ailuropoda fauna of southern China and peninsular Southeast Asia is known to include a number of ape species no longer present today. Among these apes, it is becoming increasingly clear, was a medium-bodied genus previously misattributed to the genus Homo. This unidentified ape is known only from dental remains, and is morphologically distinct from any Pleistocene ape or hominin in this region. For two decades, I have supported and promoted the idea that Gigantopithecus and Homo erectus co-existed in the Early and Middle Pleistocene of China and Vietnam. With the discovery of a chimpanzee-sized ape co-occurring with Gigantopithecus at Mohui Cave, I realized that many of the claims for early hominins in the Stegodon-Ailuropoda faunas of southern China and Southeast Asia were likely incorrect. This calls for a reappraisal of the remains from the so-called “human” sites of this time period, namely Mohui, Longgupo, Jianshi, Sanhe, Lang Trang and Tham Khuyen, in the context of irrefutable hominin evidence from elsewhere in Asia. Therefore, the earliest hominin record from Asia is documented in the far north of China in the Nihewan Basin at sites such as Xiaochangliang and in the far south on Java at sites within the Sangiran Dome. By studying the unquestionable Homo erectus sites with significant cranial remains, such as Gongwangling (Shanxi province), Hexian (Anhui province) and Tangshan (Jiangsu province), we see a clear pattern. All of these sites are found north of the Stegodon-Ailuropoda fauna. Early hominins may very well have inhabited parts of southern China, such as in river valleys or areas devoid of forest, but they were not part of the heavily forested, humid-climate adapted Stegodon-Ailuropoda mammalian fauna of the region. Additional hominin research far to the north in China, or far to the south in Java, will provide important information and valuable insights into the potential dispersal routes of early Homo erectus out of Africa or Georgia and the habitats these earliest Asian immigrants preferred.